People joined long queues outside Beijing immigration offices on Monday, eager to renew their passports after China dropped COVID border controls that had largely prevented its 1.4 billion population from traveling for three years.
Sunday’s reopening is one of the latest steps in China’s dismantling of its “zero-COVID” regime, which began last month after historic curbside protests that kept the virus at bay but sparked widespread frustration among the people.
While waiting to renew his passport in a queue of more than 100 people in China’s capital, 67-year-old retiree Yang Jianguo told Reuters he planned to travel to the United States to see his daughter in India for the first time. seen for three years.
“She got married last year, but had to postpone the wedding ceremony because we couldn’t go. We are very happy that we can go now,” said Yang, standing next to his wife.
China’s currency and stock markets strengthened on Monday as investors bet the reopening could revive a $17 trillion economy suffering its slowest growth in nearly half a century.
Beijing’s move to remove quarantine requirements for visitors is expected to boost outbound travel, as residents will not face those restrictions upon return.
But flights are scarce and several countries are demanding negative tests from visitors from China, in a bid to contain an outbreak that is overwhelming many of China’s hospitals and crematoriums. China also requires negative pre-departure COVID tests for travelers.
Top Chinese health officials and state media have repeatedly said that COVID infections across the country are at their peak and that they are downplaying the threat now posed by the disease.
“Life is moving forward again!” the Communist Party’s official newspaper, the People’s Daily, wrote in an editorial late Sunday praising the government’s virus policy.
“Today the virus is weak, we are stronger.”
Officially, China has reported just 5,272 COVID-related deaths as of January 8, one of the lowest death rates from the infection in the world.
But the World Health Organization has said China is underestimating the size of the outbreak and international virus experts estimate that more than a million people in the country could die from the disease this year.
Putting those gloomy forecasts aside, Asian stocks climbed to a five-month high on Monday as the Chinese yuan strengthened to its strongest level against the dollar since mid-August.
China’s blue-chip index gained 0.7%, while the Shanghai Composite Index rose 0.5% and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index rose 1.6%.
“The end of the zero-COVID policy will … have a major positive impact on domestic spending,” Ralph Hamers, group CEO at UBS, told the Swiss bank’s annual Greater China conference on Monday.
“We believe there are many opportunities for those committed to investing in China.”
“It’s a huge relief to be able to just go back to normal… just come back to China, get off the plane, get a taxi and just go home,” Michael Harrold, 61, an editor in Beijing told Reuters at Beijing Capital International Airport on Sunday after arriving on a flight from Warsaw.
Harrold said he anticipated quarantine and several rounds of testing on his return when he left for Europe for a Christmas break in early December.
State broadcaster CCTV reported on Sunday that direct flights from South Korea to China were almost sold out. The report quickly shot to become the most read item on Chinese social media site Weibo.
In the short term, a spike in traveler demand will be hampered by the limited number of flights to and from China, which is currently a fraction of its pre-COVID levels.
Flight Master data showed China had a total of 245 international inbound and outbound flights on Sunday, compared to 2,546 flights on the same day in 2019 — a 91% drop.
Korean Air said earlier this month it was dropping a plan to expand flights to China because of Seoul’s cautious stance on Chinese travelers. South Korea, like many other countries, now requires travelers from China, Macau and Hong Kong to provide negative COVID test results before travel.
Taiwan, which began testing arrivals from China on Jan. 1, said on Monday that nearly 20% of those tested so far had tested positive for COVID.
China’s domestic tourism revenues are expected to recover to 70-75% of pre-COVID levels in 2023, but inbound and outbound travel is expected to recover to just 30-40% of pre-COVID levels this year, reported China News on Sunday.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is being published from a syndicated feed.)
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