Life with Kids in the Time of COVID

As China’s COVID-zero policy drags on and on, a certain dichotomy has emerged in the population here: those without kids can still travel within China, as long as they’re aware of the “high risk regions” and plan for some extra mafan in the form of COVID testing, quarantining, etc. A lot of foreigners I know went to Sanya for their Christmas/New Year holiday. Meanwhile, those with kids (in non-international schools) are very much subject to their schools’ regulations, which essentially means not going anywhere.

So yeah, that’s me… stuck in Shanghai for the foreseeable future. My family went to Guilin and Yangshuo over the summer (when there was plenty of time for self-quarantining after travel). Travel over the Chinese New Year (CNY) vacation is possible, since kids have about 4 weeks off of school, and in non-COVID times Shanghainese families are normally quite fond of traveling during CNY rather than spending the whole vacation in Shanghai with family. But with a shorter timeframe and fewer appealing choices, it’s harder to arrange. Plus new cases (and resulting COVID crackdowns) are much more likely to emerge in the winter.

These days around Shanghai mask enforcement is quite spotty. Although many places require a mask for entry (like a mall), most won’t actually enforce the rule once you get inside. Most restaurants seem to have stopped enforcing masks altogether. Public transport and hospitals still require everyone to keep masks on at all times, of course.

As for the “health QR code” on our phones, it’s required to get into pretty much any public building, including malls and some restaurants. For a while I was getting away with using screenshots of my health code (it can take up to a minute to load the stupid code sometimes), but the app added the current time (including constantly updating seconds) to the QR code display as a countermeasure. Most of the guards at the door checking QR codes aren’t scrutinizing the phone screens they check all day long, but everyone is getting used to habitually showing a health code to get into a building. (Those QR codes are virtually never actually scanned.)

Scrolling through my photos of the past few months, I see remarkably few masked faces. It’s a strange routine we’ve settled into: only momentary mask-wearing (plus on public transit), but repeated health code checks on phones every day.

COVID-19 Mall Mask Requirement
This photo is a bit old. Most signs like this will now tell you to show your health code (健康码) to enter. Signs like this still tell you to wear a mask at all times indoors, but the rule is not enforced.

John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. It’s interesting to see how different jurisdictions are handling things. In Western Australia, kids have been far less restricted than adults – even most of the time we were in lockdown last year, schools were still open. In theory, they were supposed to be socially distancing at school, but I think most people with any experience of children can imagine how effectively that actually happened! (A lot of people were making comments to the effect that it was more about the government wanting the parents to keep working – especially those in essential service, but also many others also working from home – than about them really thinking that kids mixing in schools wouldn’t spread COVID.)

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