Freed but disappointed: Chinese tourists struggle to clear obstacles to Covid travel

Claire Lee was looking forward to her trip from Shanghai to her home in Anhui Province after two months of heavy blockades. But before the graduate student could see her family, she had to spend seven days locked in a room with a stranger and poor food at a local quarantine facility.

“There was something new in the food boxes every day,” Lee said. 24. Sometimes it was moldy eggs. Sometimes it was rotten potatoes.

Such appalling conditions could be tolerated by nostalgic students and other travelers who have not seen loved ones for months, if not years. But for most tourists and business travelers, they provide a powerful incentive to stay at home.

While most residents are ShanghaiBeijing and other cities affected by the blockade have been free to travel around their hometowns since early June, and going outside the city is another matter, as regions across the country continue to impose quarantine and other restrictions on outsiders.

The result is an ever-changing mix of ad hoc local quarantines that deter tourism and business travel in the world’s second-largest economy, further slowing its recovery from President Xi Jinping’s controversy. zero covid policy.

The people of Shanghai, who suffered the worst from China’s zero-blockade of Covid this spring, have been hardest hit. Two popular tourist destinations – Sanya on the tropical island of Hainan and Dali in the southwestern province of Yunnan – require those arriving from the financial center to serve three and seven days of quarantine, respectively, before they can seriously begin their vacation.

A woman receives delivery in Shanghai
A woman receives delivery in Shanghai. The city withstood two months of heavy blockade © Hector Retamal / AFP / Getty Images

Even small towns and rural areas, away from the most popular hiking trails, are suspicious of newcomers from Shanghai for fear of carrying a Covid-19 with them. While in quarantine in Anhui, Lee was annoyed that health workers in her hometown kept calling her a “patient,” even though she had repeatedly tested negative for Covid.

According to the Chinese Ministry of Tourism, 80 million trips were made during the three-day dragon boat festival this month – a drop of 11 percent from the same holiday last year and 13 percent lower than the last pre-pandemic dragon boat festival in 2019.

“Travel activities will be the last to be resumed, because as long as there is a place with a hearth, it will have an impact on travel across the country,” said Hernan Kui, an analyst at Gavekal Dragonomics in Beijing.

“I don’t expect it to recover very quickly, especially after the recent outbreaks in big cities like Shanghai and Beijing,” she added. “The journey definitely lags behind the overall recovery cycle.”

During the Chinese New Year celebrations in February, Tennyson Brown-Wolf, an American graduate student in Beijing, decided to travel to the Harbin Ice Sculpture Festival after his hotel assured him and a friend that there were no outside quarantine requirements. .

But on the way to Harbin by high-speed train, the hotel informs them that the policy has changed and they will eventually be quarantined. They jumped at the next stop and caught the first train back to Beijing.

“It was chaotic and I felt powerless,” said Brown-Wolf, who completed a two-week quarantine when he first arrived in China a year earlier. “I was scared and scared when I went through quarantine again.

Beijing has so far avoided a hard Shanghai-style blockade, but a recent epidemic has led to a series of measures in the capital. As a result, many cities treat Beijing residents as suspiciously as people in Shanghai.

Is it imposing a seven-day quarantine on arrivals in Beijing, while Nantong, a second-tier city in the eastern province of Jiangsu, is asking people in the capital to isolate themselves for three days.

Residents of Shanghai and Beijing who wish to endure quarantine while traveling around the country face an additional risk at the end of their vacation or business trip – the possibility of not being allowed to return home immediately.

On Wednesday, Beijing residents hoping to fly home from Xiamen, the capital of the southeastern province of Fujian, were not allowed to board flights if they were in Zhangzhou, a neighboring city of 5.1 million people, where six cases were found. of Covid.

Tizi, an influential Beijing-based video blogger with 4.9 million followers on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, believes she can make a quick trip to Shanghai this month, days after its draconian blockade ended on June 1.

She returned to Beijing by high-speed rail on Monday, expecting to spend seven days in hotel quarantine, as agreed with local officials in her residential neighborhood.

But after disembarking at Beijing’s South Station, health officials said she should instead return to the train and quarantine a government facility in Shandong Province.

A day earlier, dozens of people were forced off a train from Shanghai to Beijing and taken to quarantine facilities in Shandong and Tianjin, a large port city bordering the capital, when a suspected case was discovered on board.

“I’ve been in trouble, but I can’t accept being randomly assigned somewhere like this,” said Tizi of the quarantine in Shandong’s capital, Jinan, two and a half hours from Beijing by train.

Tizi traveled all over China, attending sponsorship events and filming content for her followers. But her business model is shattered by zero travel risks from Covid. “There’s nothing I can shoot at home,” she said.

Additional reports by Emma Zhou in Xiamen and Arjun Neil Alim in Beijing

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