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Chinese make travel plans as Beijing dismantles zero COVID rules

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  • China will ease border restrictions from January 1. 8
  • Online searches for flights spike – travel platforms
  • COVID wave overwhelms patients, weighs on economy

BEIJING, Dec 27 (Reuters) – Chinese people, cut off from the rest of the world for three years by strict COVID-19 restrictions, flocked to travel sites on Tuesday ahead of the reopening of borders next month, even as the Rising infections were straining the healthcare system and disrupting the economy.

The zero-COVID measures in place since the start of 2020 — from closed borders to frequent lockdowns — stoked the Chinese mainland’s biggest show of public discontent last month since President Xi Jinping came to power in 2012.

Its subsequent sharp reversal on the curbs, which hit the $17 trillion economy, the world’s second largest, means the virus is now spreading largely unchecked across the country of 1.4 billion. of people.

Official statistics, however, only showed one death from COVID In the seven days to Monday, fueling doubts among health experts and locals about government data. The numbers do not match the experience of countries with far fewer populations after reopening.

Doctors say hospitals are outmoded With five to six times more patients than usual, most of them are elderly. International health experts estimate millions of daily infections and predict at least one million COVID deaths in China next year.

Nevertheless, the Chinese authorities are determined to dismantle the last vestiges of their zero COVID policy.

In one major milestone towards freer travel – acclaimed by global stock markets on Tuesday – China will stop requiring incoming travelers to self-quarantine from January 1. 8, the National Health Commission (NHC) announced Monday evening.

“It finally feels like China has turned the corner,” AmCham China President Colm Rafferty said of the impending lifting of the quarantine rule.

There are no official restrictions for Chinese people traveling abroad, but the new rule will make it much easier for them to return home.

Data from travel platform Ctrip showed that half an hour after the news, searches for popular cross-border destinations had increased 10 times. Macau, Hong Kong, Japan, Thailand and South Korea were the most wanted, Ctrip said.

Trip.com data showed that overseas flight bookings were up 254% early Tuesday compared to the previous day.

China’s National Immigration Administration said on Tuesday it will resume processing passport applications from Chinese nationals wishing to travel overseas and approve visits from mainland residents to Hong Kong.

China will also resume implementing a policy allowing visa-free transit for up to 144 hours for travellers. The extension or renewal of foreigners’ visas will also be reinstated, the immigration administration added.

Nevertheless, ordinary Chinese people and travel agencies have suggested that a return to something like normal a few more monthsgiven concerns over COVID and more cautious spending due to the impact of the pandemic.

Separately, once the border with Hong Kong reopens next month, mainland Chinese will be able to take products made by BioNTech mRNA vaccinesconsidered more effective than nationally developed options available on the continent.


China’s COVID classification will also be downgraded to less stringent Category B from the current high-level Category A from January 1. 8, the health authority said, meaning authorities will no longer be forced to quarantine patients and close contacts and impose lockdowns.

But for all the excitement of a gradual return to a pre-COVID lifestyle, there was mounting pressure on the healthcare system, with doctors saying many hospitals are overwhelmed while funeral homes are reporting an increase in demand for their services.

Nurses and doctors were asked to work while sick and retired medical workers from rural communities were rehired to help, state media reported. Some towns are struggling to stock up on anti-fever medication.

“Some places are facing great pressure in hospital emergency departments and intensive care units,” NHC official Jiao Yahui told reporters.

With China’s economy expected to experience a sharp rebound later next year, it is set to face tough times in the weeks and months ahead as workers fall further more sick.

Many stores in Shanghai, Beijing and elsewhere have closed in recent days as staff were unable to come to work, while some factories have already sent many of their workers on furlough for the Lunar New Year holiday in late January.

“Concern of temporary supply chain distortion remains as the workforce is impacted by infections,” JPMorgan analysts said in a note, adding that their tracking of subway traffic in 29 cities showed that many people were restricting their movements as the virus spreads.

Tuesday’s data showed industrial profits fell 3.6% in January-November compared to a 3.0% decline for January-October, reflecting the record of anti-virus measures put in place last month, including in the main regions manufacturing.

Authorities said they would step up financial aid to small and private businesses in the hard-hit restaurant and tourism sectors.

The lifting of travel restrictions is positive for the economy, but strong caveats apply.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said his country would require a negative COVID test for travelers from mainland China. The government would also limit airlines increasing their flights to China, he said.

“International travel…is likely to increase, but it may take many more months before volumes return to pre-pandemic levels,” said Dan Wang, chief economist at Hang Seng. Bank China.

“COVID continues to spread in most parts of China, significantly disrupting the normal work schedule. The loss of productivity is significant.”

Reporting from Beijing and Shanghai offices and Chen Lin in Singapore; Written by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Robert Birsel

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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