Liberal but frustrated: Chinese tourists struggle to remove COVID travel hurdles

Claire Lee was looking forward to her flight from Shanghai to her home in Anhui Province after two months of grinding shutdown. But before the graduate student could see her family, she had to spend seven days locked up in a room with strange, nasty food at the local quarantine facility.

Lee, 24, said: “Every day there was something new in the meal boxes. Sometimes there were rotten eggs. Sometimes the potatoes were rotten.”

Such horrific conditions may be bearable for homesick students and other travelers who have not seen their loved ones in months, if not years. But for most tourists and business travelers, they provide a strong incentive to stay home.

While most residents in Shanghai, Beijing and other cities affected by the lockdown have been free to travel around their hometowns since early June, venturing outside city limits is another matter as regions across the country continue to impose quarantines and other restrictions on outsiders.

The result has been an ever-changing mixture of ad hoc domestic quarantines that discourage tourism and business travel across the world’s second-largest economy, delaying its recovery from President Xi Jinping’s controversial policy.

People from Shanghai, who suffered the worst of the lockdowns in China this spring, have been hardest hit. Two popular tourist destinations – Sanya on the tropical island of Hainan and Dali in southwestern Yunnan Province – require arrivals from the financial center to serve a three- and seven-day quarantine respectively before they can start their vacations in earnest.

A woman gives birth in Shanghai. The city has suffered two months of grinding shutdown © Hector Retamal / AFP / Getty Images

Even small towns and rural areas far from the most popular tourist trails are skeptical about arrivals from Shanghai, fearing they are carrying Covid-19 with them. While in quarantine in Anhui, Li was indignant that health workers in her hometown constantly referred to her as “sick” even though she repeatedly tested negative for the Covid virus.

According to China’s Ministry of Tourism, 80 million trips were made during the three-day Dragon Boat Festival public holiday this month — 11 percent less than the same holiday last year and 13 percent less than the last Dragon Boat Festival before the epidemic broke out in 2019.

“Travel activities will be the last to resume because as long as there is one place where the disease is spreading, there will be an impact on travel across the country,” said Ernan Cui, an analyst at Gavekal Dragonomics in Beijing.

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

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

But while they were on their way to Harbin on a high-speed train, the hotel informed them that the policy had changed and that they would be quarantined after all. They hopped from the next station and took the first train back to Beijing.

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

Beijing has so far evaded a severe Shanghai-style lockdown, but the recent outbreak of the disease prompted a flurry of measures in the capital. As a result, many cities treat Beijingers suspiciously the same as people from Shanghai.

Dali is imposing a seven-day quarantine on arrivals in Beijing, while Nantong, a second-tier city in eastern Jiangsu Province, is asking people from the capital to isolate for three days.

Residents of Shanghai and Beijing who are willing to endure quarantine while traveling across the country face an additional risk at the end of their vacation or business trip — the prospect of not being allowed to return home immediately.

On Wednesday, Beijing residents hoping to return home from Xiamen, the capital of southeastern Fujian Province, were not allowed to board flights if they were heading to Changzhou, the neighboring city of 5.1 million people, where six cases were detected. covid virus.

Tizi, a Beijing-based influencer vlogger with 4.9 million followers on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, thought she could take a quick trip to Shanghai this month, just days after its strict lockdown ended on June 1.

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

But after disembarking at Beijing South Station, health officials said she had to return on the train and quarantine at a government facility in Shandong province instead.

The day before, dozens of people were forced to leave another train from Shanghai to Beijing and taken to quarantine facilities in Shandong and Tianjin, a large port city on the border with the capital, when a suspected case was discovered on board.

“I’ve been through hardships but I can’t accept a random assignment in a place like this,” said Tizi, who is quarantined in Jinan, the capital of Shandong, two and a half hours from Beijing by train.

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

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

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