Travellers began streaming into mainland China by air, land and sea on Sunday, many eager for long-awaited reunions, as Beijing opened borders that have been all but shut since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
After three years, mainland China opened sea and land crossings with Hong Kong and ended a requirement for incoming travellers to quarantine, dismantling a final pillar of a zero-COVID policy that had shielded China’s people from the virus but also cut them off from the rest of the world.
China’s easing over the past month of one of the world’s tightest COVID regimes followed historic protests against a policy that included frequent testing, curbs on movement and mass lockdowns that heavily damaged the second-biggest economy.
Long queues formed at Hong Kong’s international airport for flights to mainland cities including Beijing, Tianjin and Xiamen and some Hong Kong media outlets estimated that thousands of people were travelling across.
Investors hope the reopening will eventually reinvigorate a $17-trillion economy suffering its lowest growth in nearly half a century. But the abrupt policy reversal has triggered a massive wave of infections that is overwhelming some hospitals and causing business disruptions.
The border opening follows Saturday’s start of “chun yun”, the first 40-day period of Lunar New Year travel, which before the pandemic was the world’s largest annual migration of people returning to their hometowns for taking holidays with family.
Some 2 billion trips are expected to be made this season, nearly double last year’s movement and recovering to 70% of 2019 levels, the government says.
Many Chinese are also expected to start travelling abroad, a long-awaited shift for tourist spots in countries such as Thailand and Indonesia, though several governments – worried about China’s COVID spike – are imposing curbs on travellers from the country.
Travel will not quickly return to pre-pandemic levels due to such factors as a dearth of international flights, analysts say.
China on Sunday also resumed issuing passports and travel visas for mainland residents, and ordinary visas and residence permits for foreigners. Beijing has quotas on the number of people who can travel between Hong Kong and China each day.
Source: Tap News Agency