China reopens borders in final farewell to zero-COVID

China reopens borders in final farewell to zero-COVID

HONG KONG/BEIJING, Jan 8 (Reuters) – Travelers began trickling into China’s mainland by air, land and sea on Sunday, eager for long-awaited reunions after Beijing opened borders that have been closed since the start of COVID-19. . -19 pandemics.

After three years, mainland China opened sea and land crossings with Hong Kong and ended a requirement for travelers to enter quarantine, dismantling a final pillar of a zero-Covid policy that had protected China’s people from the virus but also had cut them off from the rest. of the world.

China’s easing last month of one of the world’s strictest COVID regimes followed historic protests against a policy that included frequent testing, curbs on movement and mass lockdowns that severely damaged the second-largest economy.

Long queues formed at Hong Kong’s international airport for flights to mainland cities including Beijing, Tianjin and Xiamen, and some Hong Kong media estimated that thousands of people were traveling across.

“I’m so happy, so happy, so excited. I haven’t seen my parents for many years,” Hong Kong resident Teresa Chow said as she and dozens of other travelers prepared to cross into mainland China from Hong Kong’s Lok Ma Chau checkpoint early Sunday.

“My parents are not in good health and I couldn’t go back to see them even when they had colon cancer, so I’m very happy to go back and see them now,” she said, added that he plans to go. in her hometown in the eastern Chinese city of Ningbo.

Investors hope the reopening will eventually revive a $17 trillion economy suffering its slowest growth in nearly half a century. But the sudden change in policy has caused a massive wave of infections that is overwhelming some hospitals and causing business disruptions.

The opening of the border comes after Saturday’s start of “chun yun,” the first 40-day travel period of the Lunar New Year, which before the pandemic was the world’s largest annual migration of people returning to their homelands to take a vacation with the family.

About 2 billion trips are expected to be made this season, nearly double last year’s traffic and recovering to 70% of 2019 levels, the government says.

Many Chinese are also expected to start traveling abroad, a long-awaited shift for tourist hotspots in countries such as Thailand and Indonesia, although some governments – worried about China’s COVID peak – are imposing curbs on travelers from the country.

Travel will not quickly return to pre-pandemic levels due to factors such as a lack of international flights, analysts say.

China also on Sunday resumed issuing passports and travel visas to mainlanders, and ordinary visas and residence permits to foreigners. Beijing has quotas on the number of people who can travel between Hong Kong and China each day.


At Beijing Capital International Airport, families and friends exchanged emotional hugs and greetings with passengers arriving from Hong Kong, Warsaw and Frankfurt at the airport’s Terminal 3, meetings in the arrivals hall that would have been impossible just a day earlier for due to cancellation now. quarantine requirements for travelers from abroad.

“I have been looking forward to reopening for a long time. We are finally reconnected to the world. I’m excited, I can’t believe it’s happening,” said a businesswoman surnamed Shen, 55, who flew in from Hong Kong.

Other people waiting at the airport included a group of female fans carrying long-lens cameras hoping to catch a glimpse of South Korean boy group Tempest, the first South Korean idol group to enter China in the last three years.

“It’s great to see them in person! They are much more handsome and taller than I expected,” a 19-year-old, who gave her name as Xiny, told Reuters after following the seven-member boy who flew from Seoul via the Chinese city of Dalian .

“With the lifting of quarantine restrictions, it will be much more convenient to fly to see them and for them to come to Beijing,” she said.


Such scenes of reunions, however, clashed with other protests in several cities around China over the weekend, in a reminder of how the economy remains under strain.

Protests are not uncommon in China, which over the years has seen people come out in large numbers over issues such as financial or property fraud. But authorities have been on high alert following widespread protests in Chinese cities and major universities in late November against the COVID restrictions.

On Saturday, hundreds of Tesla ( TSLA.O ) owners gathered at the automaker’s stores and distribution centers in China to protest its decision to cut prices for the second time in three months, a move that it did to boost sales at a time of upheaval. demand in the world’s largest car market.

Reporting by Joyce Zhou in Hong Kong, Yew Lun Tian and Josh Arslan in Beijing; Writing by Brenda Goh in Shanghai; Editing by William Mallard

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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