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Chinese rush to renew passports as COVID border restrictions lifted


  • China lifted the quarantine for visitors on Sunday
  • The latest move in mitigation that allowed the virus to run free
  • Several nations require COVID tests from travelers to China
  • Chinese stocks, yuan rally on growth hopes

BEIJING, Jan 9 (Reuters) – People joined long lines outside immigration offices in Beijing on Monday, eager to renew their passports after China lifted border controls due to COVID that have largely prevented its 1.4 billion residents from travel for three years.

Re-opening on Sunday is one of the latest steps in lifting China’s “zero COVID” regime, which began last month after historic protests against restrictions that kept the virus at bay but sparked widespread frustration among people.

Expecting to renew his passport in a queue of more than 100 people in the Chinese capital, pensioner Yang Jianguo, 67, told Reuters he planned to travel to the United States to see his daughter for the first time in three years.

“She got married last year but had to postpone the wedding ceremony because we couldn’t go to attend. We are very glad that we can go now,” Yang said, standing next to his wife.

Chinese currency and stock markets rallied on Monday as investors bet the reopening could help revive a $17 trillion economy that has seen its slowest growth in nearly half a century.

Beijing’s move to lift quarantine requirements for visitors is expected to boost outbound travel as residents will not face those restrictions when they return.

But flights are scarce and several nations are requiring negative tests from visitors from China as they try to contain the outbreak that has overwhelmed many of China’s hospitals and crematoriums. China also requires travelers to test negative for COVID before departure.

China’s top health officials and state media have repeatedly said that COVID infections are peaking across the country and downplayed the threat the disease now poses.

“Life is moving forward again!” the Communist Party’s official newspaper, the People’s Daily, wrote in an editorial praising the government’s virus policies late Sunday, which it said had moved from “preventing infection” to “preventing severe illness.” .

“Today the virus is weak, we are stronger.

China has officially reported only 5,272 COVID-related deaths as of January 8, one of the lowest death rates from the infection in the world.

But the World Health Organization has said China is underreporting the scale of the outbreak, and international virus experts estimate that more than one million people in the country could die from the disease this year.

Defying those gloomy forecasts, Asian stocks climbed to a five-month high on Monday, while China’s yuan firmed to its strongest level against the dollar since mid-August.

China Blue Chip Index (.CSI300) gained 0.7% while the Shanghai Composite Index (.SSEC) Hong Kong’s Hang Seng rose 0.5% (.HSI) rose 1.6%.

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

“We believe there are many opportunities for those who commit to investing in China.”

“BIG RELIEF”

“It’s a huge relief just to be able to go back to normal … I just went back to China, got off the plane, took a taxi and just went home,” Michael Harrold, 61, a copy editor in Beijing, told Reuters. at Beijing International Airport on Sunday after arriving on a flight from Warsaw.

Harold said he expected to have to quarantine and have several tests upon his return when he left for Europe for Christmas vacation in early December.

State broadcaster CCTV reported on Sunday that direct flights from South Korea to China were almost sold out. The report quickly shot up to the most-read feature on Chinese social media site Weibo.

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

Flight Master data showed that China had a total of 245 international inbound and outbound flights on Sunday, compared with 2,546 flights on the same day in 2019 – a 91% drop.

Korean Air said earlier this month it was suspending a plan to increase flights to China because of Seoul’s cautious stance toward Chinese travelers. South Korea, like many other countries, now requires travelers from China, Macau and Hong Kong to provide negative COVID test results before departure.

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

China’s domestic tourism receipts in 2023 are expected to recover to 70-75% of pre-Covid levels, but the number of inbound and outbound trips is expected to recover to only 30-40% of pre-Covid levels this year. China News reported on Sunday.

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

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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