- China dropped quarantine for visitors on Sunday
- Last easing move that let the virus run free
- Several countries require COVID tests from Chinese travelers
- Chinese stocks and yuan rebound on growth hopes
BEIJING, Jan 9 (Reuters) – People joined long queues outside immigration offices in Beijing on Monday, eager to renew their passports after China scrapped COVID border controls that had largely prevented its 1.4 billion people to travel 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 protests against restrictions that kept the virus at bay but caused frustration widespread among its people.
Waiting to renew his passport in a line of more than 100 people in the Chinese capital, 67-year-old pensioner Yang Jianguo told Reuters he planned to travel to the United States to see his daughter for the first time in three years.
“She got married last year but had to postpone the wedding ceremony because we couldn’t attend. We are very happy to be able to go now,” Yang said, standing alongside his wife.
China’s currency and stock markets strengthened on Monday as investors bet the reopening could help reinvigorate a $17 trillion economy suffering from its weakest growth in nearly half a century.
Beijing’s decision to drop quarantine requirements for visitors is expected to boost outbound travel, as residents won’t face those restrictions upon returning.
But flights are rare, and several countries are requiring negative tests from visitors from China, seeking to contain an outbreak that is overwhelming many Chinese hospitals and crematoriums. China also requires negative COVID tests before travelers depart.
Top Chinese health officials and state media have repeatedly said COVID infections are peaking across the country and they are downplaying the threat now posed by the disease.
“Life is moving on again!” wrote the official Communist Party newspaper, People’s Daily, in an editorial late Sunday praising the government’s virus policy, which it said had shifted from “preventing infection to “prevent serious diseases”.
“Today the virus is weak, we are stronger.”
Officially, China has reported only 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 scale of the outbreak and international virus experts estimate that more than a million people in the country could die from the disease this year.
Disregarding those bleak forecasts, Asian equities hit a five-month high on Monday as the Chinese yuan strengthened to its highest level against the dollar since mid-August.
China’s blue-chip index (.CSI300) gained 0.7%, while the Shanghai Composite Index (.SSEC) rose 0.5% and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index (.HSI) climbed 1.6%.
“The end of the zero-COVID policy will … have a major positive impact on domestic spending,” UBS Group Chief Executive Ralph Hamers said Monday at the Swiss bank’s annual Greater China Conference.
“We believe there are many opportunities for those who are committed to investing in China.”
“It’s a huge relief to be able to get back to normal… just come back to China, get off the plane, get a cab and go home,” Michael Harrold, 61, an editor at Reuters, told Reuters. Beijing. at Beijing Capital International Airport on Sunday after arriving on a flight from Warsaw.
Harrold said he planned to have to self-quarantine and take several rounds of tests upon his return when he left for Europe for the Christmas holidays in early December.
State broadcaster CCTV reported on Sunday that direct flights from South Korea to China were nearly full. The report quickly became the most read article on Chinese social media site Weibo.
In the short term, an increase in traveler demand will be hampered by the limited number of flights to and from China, which are currently at a small fraction of pre-COVID levels.
Data from Flight Master showed that on Sunday, China had a total of 245 inbound and outbound international flights, compared to 2,546 flights on the same day in 2019, a drop of 91%.
Korean Air said earlier this month it was ending a plan to increase flights to China due to Seoul’s cautious stance toward Chinese travellers. South Korea, like many other countries, now requires travelers from China, Macau and Hong Kong to provide negative COVID test results before departure.
Taiwan, which began testing arrivals from China on Jan. 1, said Monday that nearly 20% of those tested so far tested positive for COVID.
China’s domestic tourism revenue in 2023 is expected to recover to 70-75% of pre-COVID levels, but inbound and outbound travel numbers are expected to recover to only 30-40% of pre-COVID levels this year , reported China News. on Sunday.
Reporting by Yew Lun Tian, Liz Lee, Josh Arslan, Eduardo Baptista and Sophie Yu in Beijing; Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Written by John Geddie; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan
Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.