Chinese jubilant, plan trips abroad as inbound Covid-19 quarantine set to end
BEIJING - Chinese reacted with joy and rushed to book flights overseas Tuesday after Beijing said it would scrap mandatory Covid-19 quarantine for overseas arrivals, ending almost three years of self-imposed isolation.
In a snap move late Monday, China said from Jan 8 inbound travellers would no longer be required to quarantine upon arrival, in a further unwinding of hardline Covid-19 controls that had torpedoed its economy and sparked nationwide protests.
Chinese social media users reacted with joy to the end of restrictions that have kept the country largely closed off to the outside world since March 2020.
“It’s over... spring is coming,” said one top-voted comment on the Twitter-like Weibo social media site.
Online searches for flights abroad surged on the news, state media reported, with the travel platform Tongcheng seeing an 850 per cent jump in searches and a tenfold jump in inquiries about visas.
“Preparing for my trip abroad!” one Weibo user wrote.
“I hope the price of the return ticket doesn’t rise again!” another said.
Residents of Hong Kong also flooded the Internet to search for flights to key mainland cities.
Outbound searches for flights from Hong Kong to the mainland on Trip.com and Ctrip, the two sub-brands of Trip.com Group Ltd, jumped around 521 per cent late on Monday evening versus the same time a week ago on Dec 19.
The top five destinations were Shanghai, Beijing, Hangzhou, Chengdu, and Nanjing, with search traffic up 1,039 per cent and 718 per cent respectively for China’s financial hub and the nation’s capital.
Searches for Hangzhou, Chengdu, and Nanjing rose 662 per cent, 399 per cent and 411 per cent respectively.
“Travel from abroad to China can only go up,” Mr Mike Arnot, an airline industry commentator and spokesman for aviation analytics company Cirium, said. “Flights to China by the world’s major airlines are down more than 92 per cent in December compared to December 2019.”
Carriers including British Airways Plc, United Airlines Holdings Inc and Qantas Airways Ltd stopped flying to China entirely during the pandemic and it “will take some time to rebuild their schedules,” Mr Arnot said.
Those airlines that have restarted services to Hong Kong should benefit from higher load factors on their existing flights to the city, which is a major hub for connections to China, he added.
The new rules follow China’s decision this month to roll back much of a zero-Covid regime that had mandated mass testing, strict lockdowns and long quarantines in government-run facilities.
Cases have surged nationwide following that easing, in an outbreak that authorities have admitted is now “impossible” to track.
And in the face of mounting concerns that the country’s wave of infections is not being accurately reflected in official statistics, Beijing’s National Health Commission (NHC) Saturday said it would no longer publish daily tallies of the number of cases.
That followed a decision last week to narrow the criteria by which Covid-19 fatalities were counted – a move experts said would suppress the number of deaths attributable to the virus.
The winter surge comes ahead of two major public holidays next month, in which millions of people are expected to travel to their hometowns to reunite with relatives.
Hospitals and crematoriums across the country have been overflowing with Covid-19 patients and victims, with studies estimating around one million people could die over the next few months.
Major cities are now grappling with shortages of medicine, while emergency medical facilities are strained by an influx of undervaccinated elderly patients.
Beijing has insisted throughout the wave of infections that the country is prepared to weather the storm – and urged people to take responsibility for their own health.
“We need the public to properly protect themselves, continue to cooperate with the implementation of relevant prevention and control measures,” Dr Liang Wannian, an epidemiologist and the head of an expert group at the NHC tasked with responding to the Covid-19 pandemic, told state news agency Xinhua.
“We need to shift the focus of our work from infection prevention and control to medical treatment.” - AFP, BLOOMBERG