Chinese rush to renew passports as COVID border curbs lifted

  • China lifted its quarantine for visitors on Sunday
  • A simplified final step that allows the virus to run freely
  • Several countries require Chinese travelers to undergo COVID tests
  • Chinese stocks, yuan rose on growth hopes

BEIJING, Jan 9 (Reuters) – People joined long queues outside immigration offices in Beijing on Monday to renew their passports after China lifted COVID-19 border controls that had prevented its 1.4 billion citizens from traveling for three years.

Sunday’s reopening is one of the latest steps to unwind China’s “zero-Covid-19” regime, which began last month after historic protests against restrictions that contained the virus but sparked widespread protests among its people.

Yang Jianguo, a 67-year-old retiree who is waiting in a queue of more than 100 people to renew his passport in the Chinese capital, told Reuters that he plans to visit the United States to see his daughter for the first time in three years.

“She got married last year, but we had to postpone the wedding because we couldn’t go. We’re so glad we can,” Young said, standing next to his wife.

China’s currency and stock markets rallied on Monday as investors said the opening would help the $17 trillion economy recover from the slowest growth in half a century.

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Beijing’s move to lift quarantine requirements for visitors is expected to boost outbound travel, as residents will no longer face such restrictions when they return.

But flights are few and several countries require visitors from China to test negative, containing the outbreak that has overwhelmed many Chinese hospitals and crematoriums. China also requires travelers to have negative COVID tests before departure.

Chinese health officials and state media have repeatedly said that the number of COVID-19 infections has peaked across the country and that they are now downplaying the risk of the disease.

“Life is moving forward again!” wrote the Communist Party’s official newspaper, the People’s Daily, on Sunday evening, praising the government’s virus policy, which had switched from “prevention of infection” to “prevention of serious illness”.

“Today the virus is weak, we are strong.”

China has officially recorded only 5,272 deaths from COVID-19 as of January 8, one of the lowest death tolls from the infection in the world.

But the World Health Organization says China is underreporting the scale of the outbreak, and international virus experts say more than a million people could die from the disease in the country.

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Asian stocks rose to five-month highs on Monday, while China’s yuan hit its strongest level since mid-August.

China’s blue-chip index (.CSI300) rose 0.7%, while the Shanghai Composite (.SSEC) rose 0.5% and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index (.HSI) rose 1.6%.

“The end of the zero-COVID policy … will have a big positive impact on domestic spending,” UBS Group CEO Ralf Hammers said on Monday at the Swiss bank’s annual Greater China conference.

“We believe there is a lot of opportunity for those looking to invest in China.”

‘BIG DISCOUNT’

“It’s a huge relief to be back to normal … back to China, get off the plane, get myself a taxi and go home,” Beijing copy editor Michael Harrold, 61, told Reuters. at Beijing International Airport after flying from Warsaw on Sunday.

Harrold said he expected to be quarantined and undergo multiple tests when he went on Christmas vacation to Europe in early December.

State broadcaster CCTV reported on Sunday that all direct flights from South Korea to China had run out. The report quickly became the most read on Chinese social media site Weibo.

In the near term, growth in traveler demand will be hampered by the limited number of flights to and from China, which are currently at a fraction of pre-COVID levels.

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Flight Master data showed there were a total of 245 international inbound and outbound flights in China on Sunday, down 91% from 2,546 on the same day in 2019.

Korean Air said earlier this month it was suspending plans to increase flights to China due to Seoul’s wariness of Chinese travelers. South Korea, like many other countries, requires travelers from China, Macau and Hong Kong to submit negative COVID test results before departure.

Taiwan, which began testing Chinese arrivals on Jan. 1, said on Monday that nearly 20% of those tested so far have tested positive for COVID.

China’s domestic tourism revenue is expected to recover to 70-75% of pre-Covid levels in 2023, but the number of inbound and outbound trips is expected to recover only 30-40% of pre-Covid levels this year, according to China News. On sunday.

Reporting by Yu Lun Tian, ​​Liz Li, Josh Arslan, Eduardo Baptista and Sophie Yu in Beijing; Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Written by John Geddy; Edited by Raju Gopalakrishnan

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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