HONG KONG/BEIJING, Jan 8 (Reuters) – Travelers began to stream into mainland China by air, land and sea on Sunday as Beijing opened borders that had been closed since the start of Covid-19. -19 pandemic.
Three years later, mainland China opened sea and land routes with Hong Kong, ending the requirement to quarantine incoming travelers, removing the final pillar of China’s zero-covid policy that protected its people from the virus but cut them off from others. of the world.
China’s loosening last month of one of the world’s tightest Covid regimes followed historic protests against a policy that included frequent testing, movement and mass lockdowns that heavily damaged the second-largest economy.
Long queues formed at Hong Kong’s international airport for flights to major cities including Beijing, Tianjin and Xiamen and some Hong Kong media estimated thousands of people were traveling.
“I’m so happy, so happy, so excited. I haven’t seen my parents in years,” Hong Kong resident Teresa Chow said as she and dozens of passengers prepared to cross into mainland China from Hong Kong’s Lok Ma Chau checkpoint early Sunday morning.
“My parents were sick and I couldn’t go back to see them when they had colon cancer, so I’m really happy to go back and see them now,” she said. to her hometown in Ningbo, eastern China.
Investors believe the reopening will eventually revitalize the $17-trillion economy. But the sudden policy change has triggered a wave of epidemics that have overwhelmed some hospitals and caused business disruptions.
The border opening follows Saturday’s start of the first 40-day “Chun Yun” period of the Lunar New Year journey, the world’s largest annual migration of people returning to their hometowns on vacation with family before the pandemic.
About 2 billion people are expected to travel this season, nearly double last year’s movement and rebounding to 70% in 2019, the government says.
More Chinese are expected to begin traveling abroad, a long-awaited shift to tourist destinations in countries such as Thailand and Indonesia, where many governments — worried about China’s COVID spike — are imposing restrictions on travelers from the country.
Analysts say travel may not return to pre-pandemic levels anytime soon due to factors such as a lack of international flights.
China on Sunday resumed issuing passports and travel visas to mainland residents 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, family and friends exchanged emotional hugs and greetings with passengers from Hong Kong, Warsaw and Frankfurt. Quarantine of travelers from abroad is required.
“I’ve been looking forward to the reopening for a long time. We’re finally reconnecting with the world. I’m thrilled, I can’t believe it’s happening,” said Shen, a 55-year-old businesswoman 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 band Tempest, the first idol group from South Korea to enter China in three years.
“It’s great to see them in person! They are much prettier and taller than I expected,” the 19-year-old girl, who gave her name as Xiny, told Reuters after chasing a boyband of seven who had flown from Seoul via the Chinese city of Dalian.
“With the isolation restrictions lifted, it will be more convenient to fly to see them and for them to come to Beijing,” he said.
However, such scenes of reunification were confused with others from protests in some cities around China over the weekend, a reminder of how the economy is in crisis.
Protests are not uncommon in China, which has seen people come out in large numbers over the years over issues such as financial or property scams. But authorities are on high alert after widespread protests in Chinese cities and top universities in late November against the COVID restrictions.
Saturday, hundreds of Teslas (TSLA.O) Owners rallied at automakers’ showrooms and distribution centers in China to protest its decision to cut prices for the second time in three months, a move to boost sales at a time when demand in the world’s biggest auto market is slowing.
Reporting by Joyce Cho in Hong Kong, Yu Lun Tian and Josh Arslan in Beijing; Written by Brenda Ko in Shanghai; Editing: William Mallard
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