Chinese plan trips as harsh Covid policy eases

Published December 28, 2022
Travellers walk with their luggage at Beijing Capital International Airport, amid the Covid-19 outbreak in Beijing on December 27. — Reuters
Travellers walk with their luggage at Beijing Capital International Airport, amid the Covid-19 outbreak in Beijing on December 27. — Reuters

BEIJING: People in China reacted with joy and rushed to plan trips abroad on Tuesday after Beijing said it would scrap mandatory Covid quarantine for overseas arrivals, ending almost three years of self-imposed isolation.

In a snap move late on Monday, China said that from January 8 inbound travellers would no longer need to quarantine, as it further unwinds hardline virus controls that had torpedoed the economy and sparked nationwide protests.

A Shanghai resident surnamed Chen said it “felt like someone has pressed the button to end the movie”, adding that her parents in Britain would be able to visit more easily. “Finally, China’s going back to normal,” she said.

Online searches for flights abroad surged on the news, with travel platform Tongcheng seeing an 850 per cent jump in searches and a 10-fold spike in enquiries about visas, according to state media reports.

Experts say tourism rebound in China will take time

On Tuesday, Chinese immigration authorities announced the gradual resumption starting January 8 of passport issuance for “tourism” or “overseas visits of friends” — suspended due to the pandemic.

And foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said China would “optimise” arrangements for foreign nationals seeking to return to work, conduct business, study abroad or visit relatives.

Some entry restrictions will remain, however, with China still largely suspending the issuance of visas for overseas tourists and students.

Beijing said on Tuesday it would “continue to adjust its visa policy for foreigners visiting China in a scientific and dynamic manner in accordance with... the epidemic situation”.

But some may also face hurdles going abroad, with Japan saying it would require Covid tests on arrival for travellers from mainland China from Friday.

Tourism uptick to take time

The relaxation of rules has also raised hopes that the country’s multi-billion dollar travel business will soon flourish again, but countries longing for the return of Chinese tourists will likely face more of a wait.

China was the world’s largest outbound tourism market before COVID shut down global travel, with its overseas visitors spending $127.5 billion on travel in 2019.

Airlines are drawing up plans to expand their services, but ordinary Chinese and travel agencies suggest that a return to anything like normal will take some time.

“It’s great they announced it so I can seriously make my plans,” said Beijing exporter Tom Guo, 43. But he said he would likely wait until the late spring or even the summer before venturing abroad again.

Data from travel platform Ctrip showed that searches for popular cross-border destinations had increased 10-fold. Japan, Thailand and South Korea were among the top destinations searched on both platforms.

Published in Dawn, December 28th, 2022

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