China reopens borders in last goodbye to zero covid policy

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Travelers began arriving in mainland China by air, land and sea on Sunday, many eager for long-awaited gatherings, as Beijing opened borders that have been all but closed since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

After three years, mainland China opened sea and land crossings with Hong Kong and removed the quarantine requirement for incoming travelers, dismantling a final pillar of a zero-covid policy that had protected the people of China from the virus but also the isolated from the rest. of the world.

China’s relaxation over the past month of one of the world’s strictest covid regimes followed historic protests against a policy that included frequent testing, movement restrictions and massive lockdowns that severely damaged the second-biggest economy.

Long lines formed at Hong Kong’s international airport for flights to mainland cities including Beijing, Tianjin and Xiamen, with some Hong Kong media estimating that thousands were traveling.

“I am so happy, so happy, so excited. I haven’t seen my parents for many years,» said Hong Kong resident Teresa Chow 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 see them again even when they had colon cancer, so I am very happy to see them again now,” he said, adding that he plans to return to his hometown in the city of Ningbo, in eastern China.

Investors hope the reopening will eventually reinvigorate a $17 trillion economy suffering its lowest growth in nearly half a century. But the abrupt policy change has unleashed a massive wave of infections that is overwhelming some hospitals and causing business disruption.

The border opening follows the start of «chun yun» Saturday, the first 40-day travel period of the Lunar New Year, which before the pandemic was the world’s largest annual migration of people returning to their places of origin. origin to take vacations with the family.

Some 2 billion people are expected to travel 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 traveling abroad, a long-awaited change for tourist spots in countries such as Thailand and Indonesia, although several governments, concerned about the rise of Covid in China, are placing restrictions on travelers from the country.

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

China also on Sunday 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.

At Beijing Capital International Airport, family and friends exchanged emotional hugs and greetings with passengers arriving from Hong Kong, Warsaw and Frankfurt at the airport’s Terminal 3, encounters in the arrivals hall that just a day ago would have been impossible because of a now-removed requirement for travelers from abroad to quarantine.

“I have been waiting for the reopening for a long time. We are finally reconnected with the world. I’m excited, I can’t believe it’s happening,” said a businesswoman surnamed Shen, 55, who flew in from Hong Kong.

Other people 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 South Korean idol group to enter China in recent years. three years.

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

“With the lifting of the quarantine restrictions, it will be much more convenient to fly to see them and have them come to Beijing,” he said.

However, such gathering scenes clashed with protest scenes in some Chinese cities over the weekend, in a reminder of how the economy remains under strain.

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

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