Ningxia, COVID & Touring | Visiting Wineries in a ‘Testing’ Time

Traveling in China during the COVID era typically means time spent waiting and worrying in regards to testing. That holds true for Ningxia, too. My recent nine-day trip there included six tests, four locations and two new online health kits. A quick look at the experience.

Day 1 | Hedong Airport

I flew into Yinchuan on a plane with lots of journalists heading to the second China (Ningxia) International Wine Culture and Tourism Expo — catchy title!

We were funneled into an area outside the airport for both nose and throat tests, with results provided in 15 minutes. The process was a bit disorganized, but eventually worked, and we headed to the freedom of Ningxia at large, although I had no evidence of my test results. Still I was happy to know that some roast mutton awaited me.

Day 2 | Ganchengzi

This area in Qingtongxia, south of Yinchuan, is known for some of the best, if not the best, grapes in the region. I stopped at a local hospital with the Stone & Moon winery team for a test, squeezed between a dumpling lunch and an afternoon of tank samples. We were able to get it while enjoying Qingtongxia’s ample sunshine. At this point, I had no way of knowing the test results, except through the winery team.

Day 5 | Qingtongxia City

I went to the hospital for this test. It involved three steps. First, lining up to register and pay – ?16 in my case. Then, lining up to get the individual health kit. Finally, lining up to have the test done with that kit.

I was also futilely trying to register for the My Ningxia app that shows local test results. Several Ningxia-based friends told me it doesn’t work for foreigners but thanks to advice from the Grace Vineyard team, who pointed to the Ningxia version of helpline 12345, my account got activated! Lo and behold, results from my previous tests – at the airport and in Ganchengzi and Qingtongixa – were all there. I was now on the Ningxia health care grid!

Day 7 Qingtongxia City

I returned to the same hospital, this time with the Grace team, to get tested before we headed off to the vineyards to see how close the grapes were to optimal harvest time. (Grace has Sangiovese planted here: the first experimental wines have been delicious so hopefully we see this grape on the shelves down the line!) Anyway, the results of this test showed up in my My Ningxia app about six hours later. I was feeling confident.

Day 8 | Yinchuan City

My flight back to Beijing was in 36 hours and – as an SMS from the travel agency reminded – I needed a negative test result within 48 hours of departure. The hotel staff in Yinchuan recommended a clinic just a short walk away. This turned out to be the trip’s most hardcore testing experience.

There was a two-stage process. First, one booth was used to register and pay – ?16 again – with plenty of questions and double-checking about my name’s spelling, birth date and so on.

The second booth involved two steps. First, you had to open a small metal door, which revealed, within a meter-square space, the health kit. (Imagine opening a big microwave oven door.) Then the staff used that kit do do the test while wearing large rubber gloves affixed to holes in the plexiglass separating them from possibly gross Canadians like me. The picture above says it all – quite a way to start the morning.

Anyway, I soon started to worry. No test results showed up in My Ningxia app after six hours. Or 12 hours. Or even the following morning, when my flight was only 12 hours away.

I discussed this situation with the hotel staff. How to get the results. Whether or not to do another test. And so on. It ended up involving three staff members, with me persistently questioning every possibility. In the end, one staff member discovered the clinic had its own app! I registered for the app and – voila! – it showed my negative test result. Would a result from a clinic app be enough to get me to Beijing? Who knew? I crossed my fingers and left it up to hopes and prayers.

The answer, a dozen hours later, was yes, although the airline staff did look a little dubiously as that test result at first.

In fact, the bigger issue at the airport was being approached by an armed soldier. He suddenly appeared in front of me and pointed at my phone and then back at his station where fellow soldiers stood with hands on guns. I then realized I had taken a photo of a DeRucci poster — as I do at every airport or train station where I spot one. And that it was directly above that station. When I showed him that all I had taken was a closeup of Captain Sleepy, he laughed and I took that as the second negative test result I needed to head out of Ningxia.

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