HomeTravelsFreed but frustrated: Chinese tourists struggle to navigate Covid travel hurdles

Freed but frustrated: Chinese tourists struggle to navigate Covid travel hurdles

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

“Every day there was something new in the lunch boxes,” said Li, 24. “Sometimes it was moldy eggs. Sometimes it was rotten potatoes.

Such appalling conditions could be bearable for homesick students and other travelers who haven’t seen loved ones in months or even years. But for most tourists and business travelers, they are a powerful incentive to stay home.

While most residents of Shanghai, Beijing and other lockdown-hit cities have been free to move around their hometowns since early June, venturing beyond the city limits is another matter, as parts of the country continue to impose quarantine and other restrictions on foreigners.

The result has been an ever-changing patchwork of ad hoc local quarantines that deter tourism and business travel in the world’s second-largest economy, further delaying its recovery from President Xi Jinping’s controversial zero Covid policy.

People in Shanghai, who endured the worst of China’s zero-Covid lockdowns 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 arrivals from the financial hub to complete three- and seven-day quarantines respectively before they can begin their vacation in earnest.

A woman receives a delivery in Shanghai
A woman receives a delivery in Shanghai. The city endured two months of crushing confinement © Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images

Even small towns and rural areas far from the most popular tourist routes are wary of arrivals from Shanghai, lest they take Covid-19 with them. While in quarantine in Anhui, Li was upset that health workers in her hometown constantly referred to her as a “patient” even though she repeatedly tested negative for Covid.

According to China’s Ministry of Tourism, 80 million trips were made during the three Dragon Boat Festival holidays this month – down 11% from the same holiday last year and 13% from less than the last pre-pandemic Dragon Boat Festival in 2019.

“Travel activities will be the last to resume because as long as there is a place with an outbreak, there will be an impact on travel nationwide,” said Ernan Cui, analyst at Gavekal Dragonomics in Beijing.

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

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

But as they were traveling to Harbin on a high-speed train, the hotel informed them that the policy had changed and they would eventually be quarantined. They hopped off at the next stop and took the first train to Beijing.

“It was chaotic and I felt helpless,” said Brown-Wolf, who endured a two-week quarantine when he arrived in China a year earlier. “I felt dread and fear about going through quarantine again.”

Beijing has so far escaped a strict Shanghai-style lockdown, but a recent outbreak has led to the imposition of a series of measures in the capital. As a result, many cities treat Beijing residents with as much distrust as Shanghai residents.

Dali imposes a seven-day quarantine for arrivals in Beijing while Nantong, a second-tier city in the eastern province of Jiangsu, asks residents of the capital to self-isolate for three days.

Shanghai and Beijing residents willing to undergo quarantines when traveling across the country face an additional risk at the end of their vacation or business trip – the possibility that they will not be allowed to return home immediately.

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

Tizi, an influential Beijing-based video blogger with 4.9 million followers on Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter, thought she might take a quick trip to Shanghai this month, days after the end of its draconian lockdown on June 1.

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

But after disembarking at Beijing South Railway Station, health officials said she had to get back on a train and self-quarantine at a government facility in Shandong province.

A day earlier, dozens of people had been kicked off another Shanghai-Beijing train and taken to quarantine facilities in Shandong and Tianjin, a major port city bordering the capital, when a suspected case was discovered on board. .

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

Tizi used to roam all over China, attending events for sponsors and filming content for his followers. But its business model has been shattered by zero-Covid travel risks. “There’s not much I can film at home,” she said.

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

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