China opens borders to bid farewell to zero-Covid policy

China opens borders to bid farewell to zero-Covid policy

Travelers began pouring into mainland China by air, land and sea on Sunday, many eager for the long-awaited reunion as Beijing opened borders that have been all but closed since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

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

China’s relaxation of one of the world’s strictest Covid regimes last month followed historic protests against policies that have included frequent testing, restrictions on movement and mass lockdowns that have severely damaged the second-largest economy.

Long lines formed at Hong Kong International Airport for flights to mainland cities including Beijing, Tianjin and Xiamen, and some Hong Kong media estimated thousands of people were traveling through the airport.

“I’m so happy, so happy, so excited. I haven’t seen my parents in 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 wasn’t even able to visit them when they had colon cancer, so I’m really happy to go back and see them now,” she said, adding that she plans to go there in hers Hometown in the east China city of Ningbo.

Investors are hoping the reopening will eventually revitalize a $17 trillion economy suffering from its lowest growth in nearly half a century. But the abrupt reversal has unleashed a massive wave of infections, overwhelming some hospitals and causing business disruption.

The border opening follows Saturday’s start of “chun yun,” the first 40-day Lunar New Year travel period, which before the pandemic was the world’s largest annual migration of people returning to their hometowns for family vacations.

Around 2 billion people are expected to travel this season, nearly doubling and recovering to 70% of 2019 levels, the government says.

Many Chinese are also expected to travel abroad, a long-awaited shift for tourist spots in countries like Thailand and Indonesia, although several governments – concerned about China’s Covid spike – are imposing restrictions on travelers from the country.

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

China also resumed issuing passports and travel visas for mainland residents and ordinary visas and residence permits for foreigners on Sunday. Beijing has quotas on the number of people allowed to 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 not have been possible a day ago due to a now-cancelled commitment for Travelers from abroad to quarantine.

“I’ve been looking forward to the reopening for a long time. We are finally connected to the world again. I’m thrilled, I can’t believe this is happening,” said a businesswoman surnamed Shen, 55, who flew in from Hong Kong.

Other people waiting at the airport were a group of female fans with long-lens cameras hoping to catch a glimpse of South Korean boy band Tempest, the first South Korean idol group to come to China in the past three years.

“It’s so nice to see her in person! They’re a lot prettier and bigger than I expected,” a 19-year-old, who gave her name as Xiny, told Reuters after following the seven-piece boy band, who flew in from Seoul via the Chinese city of Dalian.

“With the quarantine restrictions being lifted, it will be much more convenient to fly to them and come to Beijing,” she said.

However, such scenes of reunions clashed with other protest scenes in some cities across China over the weekend as a reminder of how the economy continues to struggle.

On Saturday, hundreds of Tesla owners rallied at the automaker’s showrooms and distribution centers in China to protest its decision to cut prices for the second time in three months, a move taken to halt sales in one time of flagging demand in the world’s largest auto market.

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