China lifts mandatory quarantine for travelers from overseas on Sunday, ending three years of self-imposed isolation as the country grapples with a spike in Covid-19 cases. The first arrivals expressed their relief at not having to endure the grueling quarantines that have become the daily life of the Chinese due to the “zero Covid” strategy decided by the authorities.
In Hong Kong, where the border with mainland China has been reopened after years of closure, more than 400,000 people plan to travel north over the next eight weeks. After three years of some of the most draconian restrictions in the world, which have severely affected its economy and ended up sparking protests across the country, China last month abruptly lifted most of its measures to fight the pandemic.
“The Covid has normalized now”
At Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport, a woman named Pang told AFP she was pleased with the loosening of the rules. “I think it’s really good that the policy has changed now,” she said. “It’s a necessary step, I think. The Covid has normalized now and after this obstacle, everything will be fine,” she added.
The announcement in December of the end of the quarantine prompted the Chinese to make many plans to travel abroad, with a dramatic increase in traffic on booking sites. But the prospect of a massive influx of Chinese tourists has prompted more than a dozen countries to impose screening tests on travelers from China, where the number of contaminations has exploded. Beijing has condemned the travel restrictions imposed on its nationals as “unacceptable”, although China itself has remained largely closed since 2020 to foreign tourists and international students.
The outbreak is expected to worsen ahead of the Chinese New Year holiday in late January, when millions are expected to leave hard-hit megacities for the countryside to visit their often elderly relatives. and vulnerable. And China has taken steps to limit criticism of its chaotic journey out of its “zero Covid” policy. Weibo, China’s Twitter, said it recently banned 1,120 accounts for “offending against experts and scholars”.
“Come out like this”
On Sunday, at Beijing airport, the barriers that separated international arrivals from national arrivals disappeared, as did the staff in protective suits, an essential device for China’s “zero Covid” policy. A woman who had come to meet a friend arriving from Hong Kong said the first thing they would do would be to have a meal together. “It’s so great, we haven’t seen each other for so long,” 20-year-old Wu told AFP.
And at Shanghai airport, a man named Yang who had arrived from the United States said he was unaware that the rules had changed. “I had no idea,” he said to AFP. “I would consider myself extremely lucky if I only had to do a two-day quarantine, but it turns out I don’t have to do quarantine at all, and no paperwork, we went out like this , just like in the past,” he adds. “I’m quite happy that I don’t need to be in quarantine,” another woman, who declined to be named, told AFP. “Who wants to be in quarantine? Nobody.”
Hong Kong opens
In Hong Kong, strict travel restrictions to and from the rest of China also eased on Sunday. Hong Kong’s recession-hit economy is desperate to return to growth, and families are eagerly awaiting Chinese New Year reunions. Some 410,000 Hong Kongers have planned to travel north over the next two months, while about 7,000 people on the mainland are due to travel south on Sunday, according to official data.
On Sunday at the Lok Ma Chau checkpoint near the city of Shenzhen, a student from mainland China, named Zeng, told AFP he was happy to be able to cross without facing restrictions. “I’m happy as long as I don’t have to be quarantined – it was so unbearable,” Zeng told AFP.