China’s ‘zero-Covid-19’ policy and easing of travel curbs causing confusion, frustration

BEIJING – Over the past weekend, China announced further easing of its mechanism for Covid-19 related flight suspensions, halting them for a week only if 4 per cent or more of arriving passengers on a flight test positive for Covid-19.

It comes on top of other moves in the past six weeks or so that suggest Beijing is paving the way to reopen the country to international travellers in a bid to rescue the faltering economy.

But the easing is fundamentally at odds with its “zero-Covid-19” policy, which calls for flash lockdowns and movement restrictions the moment an outbreak is detected.

Parts of popular tourist destination Hainan have been put under lockdown, stranding some 5,000 tourists, and is a major blow to consumer confidence.

For many at first, it appeared this was the summer that things would begin getting back on track.

In late June and early July, the government announced a series of tweaks to its Covid-19 policy, including shorter quarantines for international arrivals, and a change in how risk areas were classified. Even if travellers went to cities with active Covid cases, they would technically not be flagged unless they had ventured into areas where there were infections.

Further good news seemed to appear with changes to the national travel tracking system last month, which will now only record a seven-day travel history, instead of 14 days.

Domestic travellers felt cautiously optimistic that they could travel for the summer, even if they were going to a city where there were Covid-19 infections.

Many flocked to the southern island of Hainan for beach getaways, where cases have been relatively low.

But since last week, a rapidly growing outbreak with over 2,000 infections detected since Aug 1 has forced local authorities to impose lockdowns on much of the island.

About 178,000 tourists are stranded in Hainan, including around 57,000 in Sanya, state media reported.