Coronavirus: First stream of visitors in China after the end of zero Covid

After almost three years, China has reopened its borders.

Coronavirus: First stream of visitors in China after the end of zero Covid

After almost three years, China has reopened its borders. A month after the end of the rigorous zero-Covid policy, tens of thousands of Hong Kongers were the first to travel across the border crossings to the People's Republic on Sunday. Most entry restrictions and, above all, the one-week compulsory quarantine on arrival that was recently required were abolished with effect from Sunday. According to the authorities, however, the opening should take place in an “orderly manner”, so that the number of entries and exits or the issuing of visas will continue to be limited.

For residents of the Chinese special administrative region, a quota of 50,000 entries per day applies for the time being, for which visitors have to register via an online platform. The demand for China's long lockdown was high: 410,000 Hong Kongers have already registered, the South China Morning Post newspaper reported. In the opposite direction, a limited number of 6,600 travelers from China were able to cross the Hong Kong border on Sunday. Travelers must show negative PCR tests from the last 48 hours.

2.5 million infections daily

The opening follows China's abrupt change of course in early December from a zero-tolerance policy of lockdowns, mass testing and forced quarantine, which it has pursued since 2020, to full easing. Since then, a massive wave of infections has rushed through the most populous country in the world, hitting hospitals completely unprepared. Because of the overload of the health system in China and fear of new virus variants, the Federal Foreign Office (AA) in Berlin also advises against "unnecessary" trips to the People's Republic.

According to estimates by London-based data processor Airfinity, 2.5 million people are currently newly infected in China every day, while 16,600 die every day. In mid-January, the number of new infections every day could rise to 3.7 million. According to these estimates, there have already been 209,000 deaths. According to projections, the number of corona deaths could increase to 1.7 million by the end of April, Airfinity warned. China itself no longer publishes current figures on the infection situation, which triggered international criticism of the lack of transparency.

According to experts, it will take months after the borders are opened before travel returns to normal. Even the unchanged low number of international flights from China limits the number of travelers. Out of concern about possible new virus variants from China, Germany and many other countries also require travelers from the People's Republic to have a negative corona test before departure, which must not be older than 48 hours.

Waves of infection expected for Chinese New Year

Travel opportunities are also limited. The number of flights from China abroad is currently only around ten percent of the volume before the pandemic. The tickets are expensive. Tourists also have to take a back seat: China's authorities now want to issue or extend passports again, but primarily only for business and study trips. Conversely, China's embassies want to issue more visas again. But here, too, business, work or study visits and family visits have priority. A negative PCR test must be presented before entering China.

However, travelers must also note that further waves of infection are expected in China for the Chinese New Year celebrations on January 22nd. Hundreds of millions of Chinese traditionally travel to their home villages and visit relatives for the most important Chinese family festival. During the 40-day travel period starting this weekend, travel volume is estimated to reach around 70 percent compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Experts fear that the virus will be carried from the metropolises that are now affected to the - even less prepared - inland provinces and rural areas. A particularly large number of old people live in rural China, and they are often not sufficiently protected by vaccinations. In addition, medical care is inadequate in many places.