Covid China: After three years of isolation, China opens its doors

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Hong Kong
CNN

Thousands of travelers crossed the border into mainland China on Sunday for joyous reunions and long-awaited visits as authorities eased restrictions that have separated families and isolated the world’s most populous country for three years.

At international airports in China’s major cities, families waited for returnees at departure gates for the first time since the early days of the pandemic – a sharp departure from long-standing Covid protocols that saw all visitors clad in hazmat and escorted to mandatory hotel quarantine. for days or weeks.

Yu, a resident of Beijing, brought her young son to Beijing Capital International Airport to await the arrival of her husband, who was returning home from work in Spain for the first time in a year.

“(Previously) we couldn’t have taken him here today because he would have to be quarantined before going home. We are very happy that we will be able to see him today,” Yu said before leaving the place where her husband had come from, hugging her son.

In Hong Kong, where most border checkpoints with mainland China have been closed since the early days of the pandemic, residents waited to meet loved ones at the previously closed Lok Ma Chau station as the mainland also eased border controls with the city.

“I’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” said newlywed Felicia Feng from Hong Kong, who hasn’t seen her husband since their mainland wedding a few months ago.

“It’s his first time in Hong Kong… I have a whole list of food and places we want to visit,” he said, adding that although his hometown in mainland China is not far from Hong Kong, he is also restricted. He often returned to see his family during the pandemic.

“It causes a lot of problems in my life, but now things seem to be getting better,” he said.

The Hong Kong government says up to 60,000 people a day allowed to cross the border between the city and mainland China back and forth, and on Sunday, tens of thousands of people did just that, he added.

Easing China’s strict border controls, both with Hong Kong and abroad, is a crucial step for the country as it quickly resolves years of severe Covid-19 restrictions.

For nearly three years, strict border controls have isolated China from the rest of the world and burdened families and businesses with ties to the mainland, Hong Kong, Macau and overseas.

While other countries have lifted Covid travel restrictions in the past year, entering China remains a tough and expensive ordeal for overseas Chinese nationals hoping to return home and to others. travelers who are eligible to enter the country, requiring quarantine, multiple Covid tests and rush to restricted seating. flights.

Beijing announced late last month that it would lift quarantine requirements for overseas arrivals and ease restrictions on international travel from January 8. confirmed by competent authorities It plans to reopen the border with Hong Kong on Thursday until that day.

For international travel to China, Beijing has not yet given the green light to foreign tourists, and arriving travelers must show a negative Covid test result within 48 hours of departure.

But the policy change will ease the entry process for eligible travelers, and authorities will begin processing passport applications from Chinese citizens for tourism outside of China, which has been restricted to curb foreign travel. ‘approval.

The rule change, announced late last month, has spurred increased interest in China to book trips abroad during the upcoming Lunar New Year holiday, which begins on January 21 this year. , up 540% from a year earlier, according to data from Chinese travel platform Trip.com Group.

“A lot of people want to take their families on a great vacation after three years of lockdown,” Trip.com Group CEO Jane Sun told CNN on Monday as another host highlighted the upcoming holiday week. .

Meanwhile, China’s tourism industry is gearing up for an expected surge in travel, Sun said.

“We expect airlines and hotels to take some time to rehire staff and develop infrastructure in the first quarter or two (of 2023). “I hope that the infrastructure will be restored in the second half of this year,” he said.

However, some travelers must undergo a Covid test before leaving China to comply with regulations set by other countries. A number of countries have introduced Covid testing requirements for travelers from China, citing a lack of data on the strains circulating in the country during the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak.

On Sunday, another Beijinger surnamed He expressed the ease of travel as he prepares to take his family to Macau for a New Year’s Eve vacation.

Compared to last summer, when he left China, finding tickets and preparing travel documents was much easier, he said.

“It’s faster now. You can just buy a ticket, renew (your travel permit) and go … and then you can start your life the day you land,” he said.

But others, such as Hong Kong resident Anthony Chan, who traveled to the mainland to attend his cousin’s wedding, lament the time wasted when it comes to seeing loved ones and living a normal life.

The 18-year-old said he had not been able to see his extended family across the border for three years amid other restrictions on daily life due to pandemic controls.

“The policy of harming our lives for the last few years (continues) … we are afraid of this Covid. We are afraid of this policy,” he said.

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