Beijing: People waited in long lines outside Beijing’s immigration offices on Monday to renew their passports. This was after China removed COVID border controls, which had prevented its 1.4 million residents from traveling for three years.
Sunday’s reopening marks the final step in China’s demise of its “zero COVID” regime. It was established last month following historic protests against curbs which kept the virus away but caused frustration among its people.
Yang Jianguo, 67, a retired man in China told Reuters that he had been waiting to renew his passport in a queue of more than 100 people in Beijing. He was also planning to visit the United States to meet his daughter for the third time in three years.
“She was married last year, but the ceremony had to be postponed because she couldn’t travel over to attend it. Yang, standing beside his wife, said that they are very happy to be able to go.
China’s stock and currency markets strengthened Monday as investors believed that the reopening of China’s financial system could boost a $17 trillion economy, which has seen its lowest growth rate in almost 50 years.
Beijing’s decision to remove quarantine requirements for visitors will boost outbound travel as residents won’t be subject to those restrictions upon their return.
However, flights are limited and many countries require negative COVID tests from Chinese visitors. This is to stop an epidemic that has overwhelmed many hospitals and crematoriums in China. China also requires travellers to submit negative COVID test results before departing.
China’s top officials in health and the state media repeatedly stated that COVID infection rates are at an all-time high and they are minimizing the danger.
“Life is moving forward again!” The People’s Daily, the official newspaper of Communist Party, published an editorial applauding the government’s anti-virus policies late Sunday. It said that they had gone from “preventing infection” and “preventing severe diseases”.
“Today, the virus has weakened, but we are stronger.”
Officially, China reported only 5,272 deaths from COVID as of January 8, which is one of the lowest death rates due to the infection.
The World Health Organization says China has under-reported the severity of the epidemic and international virus experts have estimated that more than a million people could be affected by the disease.
These gloomy forecasts aside, Asian shares rose to a five month high Monday while China’s Yuan strengthened to its highest level against the dollar since mid August.
China’s blue chip index gained 0.7% while the Shanghai Composite Index rose 0.5%, and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index climbed 1.6%.
Ralph Hamers, UBS’ group chief executive officer, stated that the end of the zero-COVID policies “is… going to have major positive effects on domestic spending,” at the annual Greater China conference in Switzerland on Monday.
“We believe that there are many opportunities for those who are committed to investing in China.”
After he had flown from Warsaw, Michael Harrold, 61 said that it was a relief to be able “to go back to normal… just return to China, get on the plane, and get a taxi to just go home.”
Harrold stated that he was expecting to have to do multiple rounds of testing and quarantine upon his return from Europe when he went on Christmas break.
CCTV, the state broadcaster reported that direct flights between South Korea and China were almost sold out. This report quickly rose to the top of Weibo’s most-read list.
The limited number of flights to China at the moment, which is only a fraction of the pre-COVID level, will limit the potential for a surge in travel demand.
Flight Master data revealed that China had 245 international outbound and inbound flights on Sunday, as compared to 2,546 flights the same day in 2019. This is a drop of 91%.
Korean Air stated earlier this month that it had stopped plans to increase flights to China because of Seoul’s cautious attitude towards Chinese tourists. Like many other countries, South Korea now requires that travellers from China and Macau as well as Hong Kong submit negative COVID results before departing.
Taiwan, which began testing Chinese arrivals on Jan. 1, stated Monday that almost 20% of those tested for COVID were positive.
China’s domestic tourism revenue is expected to rise to 70-75% from pre-COVID levels in 2023, but it is predicted that the number of outbound and inbound trips will only recover to 30-40% of their pre-COVID levels in 2023, China News reported Sunday.