For the last 65 days Laura Hudson has been on a mission to leave China, navigating through all of its COVID restrictions to get back to the United States.
On Wednesday, she finally boarded an Air China plane at Beijing’s international airport that would take her home. As an airport official checked her temperature was normal, the 41-year-old from Arizona began to cry.
“So excited, relieved,” she told Reuters via text message. “I literally thought I was trapped forever.”
Having taught at a high school in China’s northeastern city of Changchun for six years, Hudson quit her job on March 8 for reasons unrelated to the pandemic, expecting to make a swift and trouble-free departure.
Three days later, she was stuck. Changchun announced a lockdown after discovering COVID-19 cases. The city shut all public transportation, including its airport, and ordered its nine million residents to stay home.
Dozens of other Chinese cities, including Shanghai, later followed with full or partial lockdowns in a bid to stamp out the infectious Omicron variant, making it even harder to move around within a country that had already cancelled most international flights since 2020.
This kept her confined to her apartment for most of March and April – without a functioning hot water heater. She spent most of her time writing a book, figuring how to buy food and working out ways to get a flight out.
After multiple plane ticket cancellations, one finally came through: she flew out of Changchun on Wednesday morning to Beijing to catch another plane that afternoon that will eventually bring her to Los Angeles.
Numerous foreigners have left Shanghai in recent weeks due to the city’s lockdown, but leaving smaller cities creates added complications because of the need to get to an airport with international flights, such as Shanghai or Guangzhou.
Hudson first booked a flight from Changchun airport for March 17, with plans to catch a connecting flight to Los Angeles. But it was cancelled.
She then booked a flight for April 5, having been told by the U.S. consulate that there was a possibility that the government could open the airport to let some people leave, but that did not happen. The U.S. embassy declined to comment. The Changchun government did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Changchun finally said it would start lifting the city’s lockdown on April 28, and restrictions on her residential compound were relaxed – she was allowed to leave its gates every three days for two hours.
She booked two more flights, from Changchun and from another city four hours away, and the next day was helped by a neighbourhood committee worker with a car to visit multiple government offices to get the necessary permissions to leave. That help was crucial, as many curbs remain in place and public transportation is still not yet available.
But after all that, her April 30 flight was cancelled, as were five more plane tickets booked in following days.
“There’s kind of this, ‘we’re open!,’ but you can’t leave, some kind of doublespeak going on. They say they’re open but most of the passenger flights still can’t leave,” she said two day before finally making her exit.
Hudson said she initially thought that the Changchun lockdown would only last at most 10 days.
“I don’t think I will leave the United States for quite a long time after this.”
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)