- China lifted quarantine for visitors on Sunday
- The last step in simplifying that allowed the virus to be free
- Several countries require a Covid test from travelers to China
- Chinese stocks, yuan rally on growth hopes
BEIJING, Jan 9 (Reuters) – People joined long lines outside Beijing’s immigration office on Monday, eager to renew their passports after China dropped Covid border controls that have essentially barred its 1.4 billion residents from traveling for three years.
Open again on Sunday It is one of the last steps in the dismantling of China’s “zero-Covid” regime, which began last month after historic protests against its containment of the virus but sparked widespread frustration among its people.
In a line of more than 100 people waiting to renew his passport in the Chinese capital, retiree Yang Jianguo, 67, told Reuters he plans to visit his daughter in the United States for the first time in three years.
“She got married last year but had to postpone the wedding ceremony because we couldn’t go to attend. We’re so happy we can go now,” Yang said, standing next to his wife.
China’s currency and stock markets strengthened on Monday, as investors bet the reopening could help revive the $17 trillion economy, which has suffered its slowest growth in nearly half a century.
Beijing’s move to drop quarantine requirements for visitors is expected to boost outbound travel, as residents will not face these restrictions when they return.
But flights are scarce and several countries are demanding negative tests from visitors from China, seeking to contain an outbreak that has overwhelmed many of China’s hospitals and crematoriums. China also requires pre-departure negative Covid tests from travelers.
China’s top health officials and state media have repeatedly said that Covid infections across the country have peaked and that they are now downplaying the threat posed by the disease.
“Life is moving forward again!”, the Communist Party’s official newspaper, the People’s Daily, wrote late Sunday in an editorial praising the government’s virus policy, which it said had moved from “preventing infections” to “preventing serious diseases”.
“Today, the virus is weak, we are strong.”
Officially, China reported just 5,272 Covid-related deaths as of January 8, one of the world’s highest death rates from the infection.
But the World Health Organization says China is underreporting the extent of the outbreak, and international virus experts estimate that more than a million people could die of the disease in the country this year.
Offsetting that gloomy forecast, Asian shares rose to five-month highs on Monday as China’s yuan firmed to its strongest level against the dollar since mid-August.
China’s blue-chip index (.CSI300) rose 0.7%, while the Shanghai Composite Index (.SSEC) Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index rose 0.5% (.HSI) rose 1.6%.
“The end of the zero-covid policy … will have a big positive impact on domestic spending,” UBS Group Chief Executive Officer Ralf Hammers said at the Swiss bank’s annual Greater China conference on Monday.
“We believe there are many opportunities for those who are committed to investing in China.”
“It’s a huge relief to be back to normal… just come back to China, get off the plane, get yourself a taxi and just go home,” Michael Harrold, 61, a copy editor in Beijing, told Reuters. He arrived at Beijing Capital International Airport on Sunday after arriving on a flight from Warsaw.
Harold said he expected to undergo quarantine and a series of tests upon his return from a Christmas break in Europe in early December.
State broadcaster CCTV reported on Sunday that sales of direct flights from South Korea to China had stopped. The report quickly shot to the most-read item on Chinese social media site Weibo.
In the near term, increased demand from travelers will hamper the limited number of flights to and from China, which are currently at a small fraction of pre-Covid levels.
Flight Master data showed that on Sunday, China had a total of 245 international inbound and outbound flights, compared to 2,546 flights on the same day in 2019 – a 91% drop.
Korean Air said earlier this month that it was halting plans to increase flights to China because of Seoul’s cautious stance toward Chinese travelers. 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 January 1, said on Monday that about 20% of those tested so far had been positive for Covid.
China’s domestic tourism revenue is expected to recover to 70-75% of pre-Covid levels in 2023, but the number of inbound and outbound trips is forecast to recover to only 30-40% of pre-Covid levels this year, China News reported on Sunday.
Reporting by Yu Lun Tian, Liz Li, Josh Arslan, Eduardo Baptista and Sophie Yu in Beijing; Taipei Ben Blanchard; Written by John Geddy; Edited by Raju Gopalakrishnan
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