Many countries are requesting that Chinese visitors take COVID test days before China drops border controls. This will allow for an eagerly awaited return of travel for a large population that has been mostly stuck at home for the past three years.
China will no longer require inbound travelers to quarantine starting Sunday. This is the latest dismantling its “zero COVID” regime, which began last month after historic protests against the suffocating series mass lockdowns.
However, the sudden changes have made it possible for many of China’s 1.4bn people to contract the virus. This has triggered an epidemic that has ravaged some hospitals and pharmacies, and is causing alarm around the world.
On Thursday, Sweden, Germany, and Greece joined over a dozen other countries to demand COVID testing from Chinese travelers. The World Health Organisation stated that China’s official virus data is not accurate.
Chinese officials and the state media took a defiant tone. They defended the handling of the crisis, played down the impact of the surge, and denounced foreign travel requirements for their residents.
“No matter how China deals with the COVID-19 outbreak, some Western media and certain Western politicians will not be satisfied,” the Global Times, published late Thursday by the People’s Daily of the Communist Party, said in an editorial.
Global aviation industry, which has been hit hard by pandemic curbs for years, is also critical of China’s decision to require testing of Chinese travellers. After Jan. 8, China will require pre-departure testing of inbound travelers.
Many Chinese citizens feel that the reopening was too quick.
A 70-year old man named Zhao said that they should have taken a number of steps before opening up… at the very minimum ensured that pharmacies were well stocked.” He spoke to Reuters in Shanghai.
China reported five COVID deaths on Thursday in China, making it the country’s lowest virus death toll at 5,264.
This is contrary to the real situation, where funeral parlours have been overcrowded and hospitals are crammed with elderly patients with respirators. According to the Shanghai Morning Post, over 200 taxi drivers drive ambulances in Shanghai to meet emergency service demand.
Experts in international health believe Beijing’s narrow definition for COVID deaths is not accurate and could lead to more than one million deaths this year.
Investors believe that China’s reopening will eventually revive a $17 trillion economy that has seen its lowest growth rate in almost 50 years.
These hopes and policy measures to revive China’s troubled property sector lifted China’s yuan Friday.
During the first week of trading, China’s blue-chip CSI300 Index.CSI300 as well as the Shanghai Composite Index.SSEC both gained more than 2%.
“While the reopening will be a difficult affair with surging COVID-19 case numbers and stretched health systems, our economists anticipate growth momentum across Asia, led by China,” Herald van der Linde (HSBC’s head equity strategy, Asia Pacific), wrote in a note.
OPEN SOUTHEAST ASIA
The mainland will also open its border to Hong Kong’s special administrative region on Sunday due to the Lunar New Year celebrations later this month. This is the first time the territory has done so in three years.
Ferry services between the city of Macau and Macau’s gambling hub will resume the following day.
Cathay Pacific Airways 0293.HK in Hong Kong announced on Thursday that it will more than double its flights to mainland China. The flight to and from China remains at a fraction of the pre-COVID level.
The WHO warned that another epidemic could be triggered by the holiday. It begins on January 21st and is the most popular time for human migration. People travel from cities to visit their families in small towns and villages.
Authorities anticipate that there will be 2.1 billion passenger journeys by road, rail and water over the holiday. This is nearly double the 1.05 billion journeys last year.
Transport ministry urges people to take precautions to reduce the chance of infection in elderly relatives, pregnant women, and infants.
The region that China is opening up to the world, especially Southeast Asia, will be a significant beneficiary. There are no countries that require Chinese visitors to take COVID test.
The 11 countries of the region will treat Chinese tourists like any other, except for Malaysian and Thai airline wastewater testing for the virus.
According to ITB China, 76% of Chinese travel agencies considered Southeast Asia the best destination for outbound travel when they resumed their travels in a survey.
While many Chinese have used social media to share their travel plans, others remain cautious.
One WeChat user from Tianjin warned that “you want to see the whole world, but the entire world may not want you to see them.”