China reopens borders as final farewell to zero-Covid policy

Travelers began pouring into mainland China by air, land and sea on Sunday, many eager for long-awaited reunions, as Beijing opened borders that have been virtually closed 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 travelers 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, curfews and mass lockdowns that severely damaged its second-largest economy.

Long lines formed at Hong Kong’s international airport for flights to mainland cities including Beijing, Tianjin and Xiamen, and some Hong Kong media estimated that thousands of people traveled over.

“I’m so happy, so happy, so excited. I haven’t seen my parents in 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 couldn’t go back to see them even when they had colon cancer, so I’m very happy to go back and see them now,” she said, adding that she plans to go to his hometown in the city of Ningbo in eastern China.

Investors hope the reopening will eventually revive a $17 trillion economy suffering from the slowest growth in nearly half a century. But the abrupt reversal of the policy has triggered a massive wave of infections that is overwhelming some hospitals and causing business disruption.

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 family holidays.

About 2 billion people are expected to travel this season, almost double last year’s movement and restore to 70% of 2019 levels, the government says.

Many Chinese are also expected to start traveling abroad, a long-awaited shift for tourist spots in countries such as Thailand and Indonesia, even as several governments – worried about China’s Covid spike – are imposing curbs on travelers from the country.

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

On Sunday, China also resumed issuing passports and travel visas for mainlanders, and regular visas and residence permits for foreigners. Beijing has quotas on the number of people who can 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 have been impossible just a day ago due to a now canceled requirement for travelers from abroad to quarantine.

– I have been looking forward to the reopening for a long time. Finally, we are connected to the world again. I’m thrilled, I can’t believe it’s happening,” said a businesswoman surnamed Shen, 55, who flew in from Hong Kong.

Others waiting at the airport included a group of female fans carrying long-lens cameras hoping to catch a glimpse of South Korean boy band Tempest, the first idol group from South Korea to enter China in three years.

“It’s so good to see them in person! They are much handsomer and taller than I expected,” a 19-year-old who gave his name as Xiny told Reuters after chasing the seven-member boy band, who flew in from Seoul via the Chinese city of Dalian.

“With quarantine restrictions lifted, it will be so much more convenient to fly over to see them, and for them to come to Beijing,” she said.

However, scenes of such reunions were mixed with protests in some cities around China over the weekend, a reminder of how the economy remains under pressure.

On Saturday, hundreds of Tesla owners gathered at the carmaker’s showrooms and distribution centers in China to protest the decision to cut prices for the second time in three months, a move they made to boost sales at a time of faltering demand in the world’s largest. the car market.

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