There was jubilation and heartache in cities across China as the long-awaited border reopening — the final step in country’s dismantling of Covid Zero — sparked a homecoming rush for many diaspora.
Gu Tingting had been looking forward to visiting her grandfather in Beijing and trying local cuisine after three years of being absent in London. She works for an energy company.
“I’m gonna cry, I’m back in Beijing and will eat dumplings, lamb skewers, everything I like,” said the 28-year old, who flew into the capital via Hong Kong.
Starting Sunday, China no longer requires After authorities ended the policy of quarantine for arrivals, it was no longer necessary. This policy, coupled with high prices for air travel and severe capacity constraints, was a significant deterrent to travelers. While anyone wanting to enter the country will still need a 48-hour negative Covid test result, the substantial easing in border controls just two weeks before the Lunar New Year holiday marks an end to Beijing’s efforts to keep out the virus.
The influx of Chinese tourists is unlikely to be equaled by an increase in the demand for overseas trips. The Chinese tourist flow, which was previously quite high, is now declining. $280 billion It could take several months or even years for global holiday hotspots like Tokyo and Paris to recover to their pre-pandemic levels.
After the rise in infections, a number of countries have instituted testing requirements for travelers from China. Airlines have not been willing to make significant changes immediately. flight schedules This means that prices are high and capacity remains limited.
“The willingness to travel has started to strongly rebound among Chinese,” said Chen Xin, head of China leisure and transport research at UBS Securities. “But it still takes time to be reflected in the outbound travel routes.”
The reopening of China’s borders marks the end of Covid Zero, a strategy that left the world’s second-biggest economy isolated for three years and weighed heavily on the economy. While the measures While they managed to stop the virus from spreading throughout the pandemic, it was unable to be eradicated in the United States.
Royce flew into Shanghai from Hong Kong on Sunday after an almost month-long trip to Australia — his first overseas journey in three years. To avoid being held in quarantine on the mainland, Royce spent four days waiting in Hong Kong. Royce, who runs an import-export company in Shanghai, will be returning to Europe next month to meet with clients.
“The reopening is extremely important for the economy,” he said. “For those three years it was shut down, the relationships with our partners in different countries just deteriorated.”
The government began to roll back quarantine in June, after it was extended arbitrarily in China by local authorities. Its pace increased as China dropped domestic Covid controls measures like lockdowns and mass testing in the last months in 2022.
It is the only country to have abolished border restrictions after more than one year since early Covid Zero proponents like Singapore, Australia, and New Zealand resumed travel that was free from quarantine.
The reopening won’t bring much risk of a new outbreak because the BQ and XBB subvariants are still part of the omicron strain, Wu Zunyou, a chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told state broadcaster CCTV. Wu said China hasn’t found any new mutation domestically.
Most of the inbound flow will originate from Hong Kong. This is where many diaspora travelers will travel, given the few direct flights between global destinations and mainland cities. There’s been a rush to secure spots in the daily quota of about 60,000 people allowed to travel northward from the financial hub, including 50,000 via the land borders that separate the two places.
“I haven’t been home in almost two years, so the announcement felt like a fever dream,” said Connor Zhao, a 25-year-old consultant who lives in San Francisco. He’s currently on holiday in Bangkok and will fly to Qingdao on Jan. 19, with his trip including a layover in Hong Kong.
“I’m very excited to see my parents. Getting to spend Chinese New Year with them means a lot to me,” he said.
Hong Kong’s leader John Lee said the next step would be lifting the quota, though he didn’t provide any date.
“The government hopes to reach complete normalcy in terms of the mainland border reopening,” Lee said on Sunday at the Lok Ma Chau station border control point. “I hope it will be as soon as possible.”
Olivia Wang was one of those who took advantage of the opening of the border. The University of Hong Kong graduate student has been living apart from her partner for three years. She lives in Shenzhen, which is a neighboring city. She has visited her partner, whom she married in October, seven more times during that time. She was quarantined for up to 21 days each time she visited her partner.
“I feel like a part of me is coming back to life,” said Wang, who crossed into mainland China at Lok Ma Chau station. “In the past years I’ve felt alone and distressed, deprived of the chance to see my family.”
The requirement to pass a negative test for PCR and the practice of wearing near-universal face masks may be deterrents for foreigners and businesspeople who wish to resume their visitation to China. China has now rejoined the rest the world, for the first-time since the virus appeared in Wuhan in the latter part of 2019.
–With assistance from Luz Ding, Amanda Wang and Allen Wan.
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