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China Opened Borders In Final Farewell To Zero-Covid

BEIJING: Travellers streamed into China by air, land and sea on Sunday, many eager for long-awaited reunions, as Beijing opened borders that have been all but shut since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

After three years, mainland China opened sea and land crossings with Hong Kong and ended a requirement for incoming travellers to quarantine, dismantling a final pillar of a zero-COVID policy that had shielded China’s 1.4 billion people from the virus but also cut them off from the rest of the world.

China’s easing over the past month of one of the world’s tightest COVID regimes followed historic protests against a policy that included frequent testing, curbs on movement and mass lockdowns that heavily damaged the second-biggest economy.

Long queues formed at the Hong Kong international airport’s check-in counters for flights to mainland cities including Beijing, Tianjin and Xiamen. Hong Kong media outlets estimated that thousands were crossing.

“I’m so happy, so happy, so excited. I haven’t seen my parents for many years,” said Hong Kong resident Teresa Chow as she and dozens of other travellers prepared to cross into mainland China from Hong Kong’s Lok Ma Chau checkpoint.

“My parents are not in good health and I couldn’t go back to see them even when they had colon cancer, so I’m really happy to go back and see them now,” she said.

Investors hope the reopening will reinvigorate a $17-trillion economy suffering its slowest growth in nearly half a century. But the abrupt policy reversal has triggered a massive wave of infections that is overwhelming some hospitals and causing business disruptions.

The border opening follows Saturday’s start of “chun yun”, the 40-day period of Lunar New Year travel, which before the pandemic was the world’s largest annual migration, as people returned to their hometowns or took holidays with family.

Some 2 billion trips are expected this season, nearly double last year’s movement and recovering to 70% of 2019 levels, the government says.

Many Chinese are also expected to start travelling abroad, a long-awaited shift for tourist spots in countries such as Thailand and Indonesia. But several governments – worried about China’s COVID spike – are imposing curbs on travellers from the country.

Travel will not quickly return to pre-pandemic levels due to such factors as a dearth of international flights, analysts say.

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