People waited in long lines outside Beijing’s immigration offices Monday to renew their passports. This was after China removed COVID border control that had largely stopped its 1.4 billion residents from traveling for the past 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.
Yang Jianguo, 67 years old retired man who waited in a long line to renew his passport in Beijing’s capital city of China told Reuters that he planned to visit the United States in order to meet his daughter for the first time in three decades.
She got married last year, but the ceremony was postponed because she couldn’t travel over. Yang, who was 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 opening could boost a $17 trillion economy, which has seen its worst growth for nearly 50 years.
Beijing has decided to remove quarantine restrictions for visitors, which is expected to increase outbound travel. Residents will no longer be subject to those restrictions upon their return.
However, flights to China are limited and many countries require negative COVID tests for visitors. This is in an effort to stop the spread of an epidemic that has overwhelmed so many Chinese hospitals and crematoriums. China also requires travelers to submit negative COVID test results before departing.
China’s highest-ranking health officials, as well as state media, reported that COVID infection rates are at an all-time high in China. They are minimizing the danger.
The People’s Daily (Official newspaper of the Communist Party), published an editorial saying that “Life is moving forward!” It praised the government’s anti-virus policies on Sunday, claiming they had gone from “preventing disease” to “preventing infectious diseases.
“Today the virus is weak. We are stronger.”
According to official statistics, China had reported only 5,272 deaths from COVID as of January 8, which is one of the lowest death rates due to the disease.
The World Health Organization says China has underreported the severity of the epidemic and experts from around the world estimate that more than a million Chinese could be affected by the virus.
These gloomy predictions aside, Asian shares rose to a 5-month high Monday. Meanwhile, China’s Yuan strengthened to the highest level since mid-August.
China’s blue-chip index (.CSI300), gained 0.7% while Shanghai Composite Index rose 0.5%, and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index climbed 1.6%.
Ralph Hamers (group chief executive officer of UBS) stated that the end to the policy of zero-COVID “is… going have a major negative impact on domestic spending.” He spoke at the annual Greater China conference in Switzerland on Monday.
We believe that there are many opportunities for investors in China.
After he had flown from Warsaw, Michael Harrold (61), a Beijing copy editor, told Reuters that it was a relief to just 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 vacation in December.
CCTV, the state broadcaster reported that Sunday’s direct flights between South Korea and China had almost sold out. This report became the top-read article on the Chinese social media platform Weibo.
The limited availability of China-bound flights, currently only a fraction of the pre-COVID level, will limit the potential for a surge in travel demand.
According to Flight Master data, China’s total international outbound and inbound flight numbers were 245 on Sunday, as compared with the 2,546 flights in 2019. This is a drop of 91%.
Korean Air stated earlier in the month that they were stopping plans to expand flights to China. This was due to Seoul’s cautious attitude towards Chinese tourists. Like many countries, South Korea now demands that travelers from China and Macau as well as Hong Kong submit negative COVID results prior to departure.
Taiwan started to test arrivals from China in January. It announced Monday that almost 20% had tested positive for COVID.
China News reports that China’s 2023 domestic tourism revenues will recover to 70-75% from pre-COVID levels. However, the numbers of outbound and inbound trips are expected to return to 30-40% this year.