This past Sunday, China reopened its land and sea borders for the first time in three years. China’s 1.4 billion inhabitants can finally see their friends and family again.
Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019, China has followed a zero-COVID policy. In order to minimize the number of infections, it has utilized mass testing, government-organized quarantines and strict lockdowns, even if only a couple of cases are detected. These approaches had many drawbacks, however. The lockdowns have slowly depleted China’s resources, resulting in food shortages. Residents that endured these policies could not travel and were often confined to their homes for weeks or months at a time.
Public sentiment towards the zero-COVID policy slowly soured over time, resulting in mass protests in November 2022. Because of the heavy censorship of media, protestors would hold up a blank sheet of paper, representing the powerful but voiceless citizens. Other protestors took to social media, where millions of users on WeChat and Douyin would send photos and videos that were flipped or edited to bypass the firewall. These protests were not only for the loosening of the COVID-19 restrictions but also for political and social freedoms.
These protests appeared successful, as President Xi Jinping loosened China’s zero-COVID policy in December. Forced quarantines, lockdowns and mass testing were done away with. Additionally, many schools and businesses have reopened. Citizens no longer had to report negative virus tests and health code checks to travel domestically.
However, there has been a massive surge in COVID-19 infections due to the easing policies. Many hospitals are filling up rapidly, especially in largely populated cities like Beijing. Some hospitals have run out of beds and intensive care units.
Despite the rising cases, China and Hong Kong have decided to reopen their borders. Hong Kong placed a daily quota of 60,000 travelers crossing into mainland China. These crossings, however, still require a negative COVID-19 test within the last 48 hours.
For Chinese travelers, the most popular destinations are Singapore, South Korea, Japan and Thailand. With all of these countries celebrating the Lunar New year, scientists are predicting another surge in COVID-19 cases. Jan. 7, the day before reopening, was the beginning of “Chun Yun” – the 40-day period of travel for the Lunar New Year. With China expecting over 2 billion trips for the upcoming New Year, the risk of COVID-19 infections is higher than ever.