When Ashley Smith* left her apartment in Ningbo, China, for a holiday in Europe, she had no idea her return home would be quite so surreal.

The New Zealand-born teacher, who has been living in China for the last five years, travelled to Germany to visit a friend, then to the US to visit her brother, before returning to Europe for the rest of her holiday.

During her break, she kept in touch with her employer and the HR department told her it was safe to return home, but she'd have to self-isolate for seven days.

She started the long journey back home, convinced she'd return to some kind of normalcy. The reality turned out to be quite different.

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Flying back to Ningbo on Tuesday, Smith was immediately placed in self-isolation for 14 days.

She was one of 21 people taken away for further health checks once the plane landed in Ningbo. Photo / Supplied
She was one of 21 people taken away for further health checks once the plane landed in Ningbo. Photo / Supplied

"Everything can change in 24 hours," she wrote on Facebook today, from her apartment in Ningbo.

"After 50 days of being in international travel limbo, I finally headed back to China. I was told by HR things are back to normal in my city and I would just need seven days self-quarantine."

The long journey home included over 17 hours of layover in Moscow before landing in Beijing.

"When the plane landed [in Beijing], people in hazmat suits took us off the plane and shuffled us to multiple health check stations. Afterwards, I took my short domestic flight to my city, Ningbo.

"When we landed we were not allowed off the plane. About 20 people, myself included, were called by seat number to exit the plane and were taken for extra health checks and to fill out more paperwork. All of us had been abroad prior to arriving in China but all from different places; France, South Africa, Ukraine. I was told that Germany was put on the high risk list in terms of the coronavirus by China the day before I arrived and I would need to be in quarantine for 14 days."

Smith was taken on an out-of-service public bus and had her own personal police officer and government official, who escorted her back to her apartment complex.

The New Zealander arrived home in China to a very different reality to what she'd left to go on holiday. Photo / Supplied
The New Zealander arrived home in China to a very different reality to what she'd left to go on holiday. Photo / Supplied

Despite having previously been told that self-isolation would still allow her to walk or go for a run within the apartment complex, that turned out not to be the case: Smith has a sign on her apartment door indicating her quarantine status and she is not allowed to leave her home for 14 days.

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"I have to report my temperature two times a day and am not allowed to leave my apartment for two weeks. When the two weeks is over, I will be taken to the hospital to make sure I am healthy."

The Kiwi says she asked whether she could just be tested for coronavirus but was told the results of the test would take two weeks anyway.

For now, she waits.

Today is her second day in quarantine.

Schools in Ningbo are still all closed but Ningbo, who teaches Geography, is teaching two online classes a day from her apartment.

She also has two kittens who she says are, luckily, quite rambunctious and keep her entertained.

She is not to have any kind of human interaction for the next 12 days. A friend buys her groceries, leaves them at the door, knocks then walks away. Smith waits and then opens the door to collect the groceries.

If she gets any deliveries, they are left with the guard outside the gate. Once she receives them, she has to disinfect them.

Building management staff collect her rubbish.

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"Thankfully quarantine is in my apartment and not in a hotel like others have had. It will be a long two weeks but a big celebration on March 24th once this is over," she says.

Smith left New Zealand at 13 and moved to the US, where she lived until moving to China five years ago. She still has grandparents, aunts and other extended family in Tauranga, and visits New Zealand every couple of years.

She says, despite her strict quarantine, things do seem a bit calmer in China. However, to prevent new cases coming from abroad, quarantine rules are getting stricter.

"Originally it was just people coming from Europe, but now it's from everywhere. They're also putting people in quarantine retroactively," she says, mentioning a friend who returned from Thailand last week but was just now put in quarantine.

"Before we could go out for a run in the apartment complex but now I cannot leave the apartment."

Smith says, despite being well informed about the outbreak, she didn't expect the ordeal that followed her arrival in China.

"I was very shocked. I cried at the airport. When I arrived in Beijing everything was normal. Then in my city they called us by seat number and 21 of us were taken to another location for health checks."

She doesn't have any flu-type symptoms and has not been in contact with anyone who has been diagnosed with Covid-19.

Airport workers greeted travellers wearing hazmat suits when she arrived back in China. Photo / Supplied
Airport workers greeted travellers wearing hazmat suits when she arrived back in China. Photo / Supplied

At the airport, her temperature was 36.8C, well within the normal range.

Twice a day, she has to take her temperature, send it to her boss, who then sends it to a health official.

"It feels so surreal, everyone has gone a bit health-crazy," she says, "I can't even borrow a pen from anyone".

"I understand why I've been quarantined. China has implemented many successful measures to contain it within in country since the outbreak began and they don't want any repeats. It's just very frustrating to be in this situation when it wasn't at all what I expected," she says.

For now, there is not a whole lot to do but to pass the time in quarantine. Smith says she's got plenty of books and Netflix shows to watch but is looking forward to the day she is allowed outside again.

*The New Zealander's name was changed to protect her privacy.