There is joy and heartache in cities across China as the long-awaited opening of the border – the final step in the country’s dismantling of Covid Zero – sparked a rush to return home for many in the diaspora.
Gu Tingting was looking forward to seeing his grandfather and eating local food in Beijing after three years of absence in London, where he worked for an energy company.
“I’m going to cry, I’m back in Beijing and eating dumplings, lamb skewers, everything I want,” said the 28-year-old, who flew to the capital via Hong Kong.
As of Sunday, China is gone NEEDS quarantine for arrivals after authorities rejected the policy which, with sky-high air fares amid severe capacity shortages, is a major deterrent to travelers. While anyone who wants to enter the country still needs a 48-hour negative Covid test result, the massive suspension of border controls two weeks before the Lunar New Year holiday marks to end Beijing’s efforts to contain the virus.
But the influx of travelers heading into the country may not be matched by the surge in demand for overseas travel. The flow of Chinese tourists, previously a $280 billion Energy spending in global holiday hotspots from Paris to Tokyo will take months if not years to recover to pre-pandemic levels.
A raft of countries have implemented testing requirements for travelers from China after the infections, and airlines have been reluctant to make immediate major changes to their flight schedules meaning capacity remains tight and prices high.
“Willingness to travel is beginning to rebound strongly among Chinese people,” said Chen Xin, head of China leisure and transportation research at UBS Securities. “But it still needs time to be seen on outbound travel routes.”
The reopening of China’s borders marks the end of Covid Zero, a strategy that left the world’s second largest economy isolated for three years and weighed down the economy. While the steps were able to contain the virus in most of the pandemic as it killed millions elsewhere, they became increasingly irrelevant as the emergence of highly infectious variants made eradicating the coronavirus all but impossible.
Royce flew to Shanghai from Hong Kong on Sunday after a nearly month-long trip to Australia – his first overseas trip in three years. He waited four days in Hong Kong to avoid quarantine on the mainland. Royce, who operates an import-export business in Shanghai, plans to leave for Europe again next month to meet with clients.
“Reopening is very important for the economy,” he said. “During the three years that it has been closed, relations with our partners in different countries have deteriorated.”
The government began rolling back the quarantine, which local authorities in parts of China had arbitrarily extended to nearly a month at some points during the pandemic, in June last year, with the pace of change or that rapidly after China suddenly abandoned the measures to prevent Covid domestically like the masses. try and lock in the last months of 2022.
It is the last country to lift border restrictions, more than a year after early adopters of Covid Zero such as Singapore, Australia and New Zealand resumed quarantine-free international travel.
The reopening does not bring much risk of a new epidemic 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 the state broadcaster CCTV. Wu said China has not detected any new mutations domestically.
Most of the initial inbound flow is expected to come from Hong Kong, where many of the diaspora travel given the limited direct flights from global destinations to mainland cities. There is a rush to get places in the daily quota of about 60,000 people allowed to travel north from the financial center, including 50,000 through the land borders that separate the two areas.
“I haven’t been home in almost two years, so the announcement was like a fever dream,” said Connor Zhao, a 25-year-old consultant who lives in San Francisco. He is currently on vacation in Bangkok and will fly to Qingdao on January 19, with his trip including a layover in Hong Kong.
“I am very happy to see my parents. Spending Chinese New Year with them means a lot to me,” he said.
Hong Kong leader John Lee said the next step would be to lift the quota, although he did not give any date.
“The government hopes to reach full normality in terms of reopening the mainland border,” Lee said on Sunday at the Lok Ma Chau station border control point. “I hope it’s as soon as possible.”
Olivia Wang is one who immediately took advantage of the opening of the border. The graduate student at the University of Hong Kong has been separated for three years from her partner, who lives in the neighboring city of Shenzhen. He saw his partner, whom he married in October, seven times during that time. Each visit he endures in quarantine for up to 21 days.
“I feel like a part of me has come alive again,” said Wang, who crossed into mainland China at the Lok Ma Chau station. “In the past years I felt alone and sad, deprived of the opportunity to see my family.”
As for the continued visit of foreigners and businessmen to China, the requirement for a negative PCR test and practices such as wearing an almost universal mask may act as a deterrent in the near term. But for the first time since the virus emerged in Wuhan in late 2019, China has joined the rest of the world.
–With help from Luz Ding, Amanda Wang and Allen Wan.
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