China National Day: After Covid-19, Hundreds of Millions Are About to Go on Vacation at the Same Time

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Hong Kong (CNN) – China is on the move again. As October 1 arrives, hundreds of millions of people are expected to pack highways, trains and planes for National Day, one of the busiest times to travel to the world’s most populous country.The eight-day break is China’s first big holiday since it emerged from the coronavirus outbreak. While life has largely returned to normal in recent months, the upcoming Golden Week holiday will be an ambitious test of China’s success in taming the virus – and a much-anticipated boost to its economic recovery. .

Last year, a total of 782 million domestic trips were made during the holidays, generating nearly 650 billion yuan ($ 95 billion) in tourism revenue, according to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

Tourists invade the Leshan Giant Buddha in China’s Sichuan Province during National Day 2019.

Liu Zhongjun / Chinese News Service / VCG / Getty Images

The ministry predicts that 550 million domestic trips will be made this year, while Ctrip, China’s largest online travel agency, estimates the number at over 600 million, both above 70% of the year’s level. last.

The scale of the mass movement in such a short time is unthinkable in many parts of the world, where governments still struggle to control the spike in infections. In the United States, the number of coronavirus cases topped 7 million this weekend. Much of Europe is now in the grip of a second wave of infections; even countries largely untouched by the first wave, such as Greece and Croatia, have seen cases increase as tourists take summer vacations after Europe’s internal borders reopened in June.

But for now, the virus is much less of a concern for Chinese vacationers, given near-zero local transmission in China and some of the world’s toughest border control measures.

Chen Qianmei, 29, from the southern city of Guangzhou, flew to Shanghai on Tuesday for her vacation. She said she was not worried about the virus, although she still takes precautions.

“I think China has (the virus) under pretty good control,” she said. “I wear masks and bring alcohol wipes to wash my hands, especially before eating – although in Shanghai not many people wear masks now. “

Chinese security personnel monitor crowds on a popular pedestrianized shopping street during the “Golden Week” holidays in Shanghai in 2017.

Contributor AFP / AFP / AFP via Getty Images

Trust watch

The coronavirus, first detected in the city of Wuhan, in central China, last December before spreading around the world, has been largely contained in China since March. Over the following months, small-scale epidemics occasionally erupted – from the country’s northeast to the capital Beijing and far west Xinjiang, but all were quickly contained thanks to strict lockdown measures and mass testing programs.

China has not reported any symptomatic locally transmitted cases since mid-August and is conducting rigorous screening of overseas arrivals and workers at risk of exposure to the virus. Last week, it detected its first local asymptomatic infections in more than a month, after two port workers unloading imported frozen seafood in Qingdao tested positive for the virus during routine testing.

Two residents walk in an empty park during the Lunar New Year holiday on January 27 in Wuhan, China.

Two residents walk in an empty park during the Lunar New Year holiday on January 27 in Wuhan, China.

Stringer / Getty Images

The sense of control stands in stark contrast to the anxiety and foreboding that had overshadowed the last major period of travel in China – the Lunar New Year holidays in late January. At the time, the coronavirus outbreak swept through Wuhan after local authorities initially silenced healthcare workers trying to sound the alarm. Two days before Lunar New Year’s Day, the Chinese government ordered an unprecedented lockdown on the city, but by then the virus had already spread to other provinces and beyond the country, as hundreds of millions of Chinese headed home for family reunions or took vacations abroad.

More than eight months later, Chinese restrictions on domestic movement have all been lifted. Officially, some cities still require passengers to produce a green health code on their smartphones at stations and airports to show they can travel safely, but the implementation can be lax in practice.

As a sign of the government’s confidence in keeping the virus under control, the China Center for Disease Control and Prevention said last week that domestic travel can be arranged “as usual” for the upcoming holidays, given that all cities in mainland China are marked as weak. risk for coronavirus.

But the center has always recommended that travelers obey local epidemic control measures, wear masks on trains, flights and in crowded places, and stand 1 meter (3.2 feet) from distance to tourist sites – the latter of which might be difficult or impossible to observe. , given the size of the crowds that often flood popular sites during Chinese holidays.

Last week, China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism ordered tourist sites to limit capacity to 75% during Golden Week, down from a limit of 50% from previous months. To facilitate contact tracing, visitors should register online in advance.

Tourists wearing face masks line up outside the Yellow Crane Tower in Wuhan, China on September 3.

Tourists wearing face masks line up outside the Yellow Crane Tower in Wuhan, China on September 3.

HECTOR RETAMAL / AFP / AFP via Getty Images

Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist at the Chinese CDC, told state broadcaster CCTV earlier this month that there was no need to impose additional restrictions on domestic travel during the National Day holidays, because the coronavirus was no longer circulating in society.

“It is now impossible to contract the virus in social environments,” he said. “Although we still find dozens of imported cases among travelers arriving in China on international flights, the imported cases are managed in a closed loop and will not spread to society, and therefore will not have much impact on national residents. “

Increase in domestic travel

Chinese officials – including the Chinese CDC and the Foreign Ministry – have urged Chinese citizens to avoid unnecessary overseas travel, citing the pandemic which still rages across the world.

The Golden Week holiday – the longest in China along with the Lunar New Year holiday – has traditionally seen middle-class Chinese travel abroad in large numbers. Last year, more than 7 million overseas trips were made during the holidays, with Japan and Thailand among the top destinations, according to government data.

Chinese tourists wait for their tour bus in the Ginza shopping district on October 02, 2019 in Tokyo, Japan.

Chinese tourists wait for their tour bus in the Ginza shopping district on October 02, 2019 in Tokyo, Japan.

Tomohiro Ohsumi / Getty Images AsiaPac / Getty Images

But this year, overseas travel will be next to impossible, given various visa restrictions and quarantine requirements around the world, as well as a lack of international flights. Upon returning to China, travelers also face two weeks of strict quarantine – at least half of the time that must be spent in hotels designated by the government.

The only exception is Macau, which waived quarantine requirements in July for mainland travelers who tested negative for the coronavirus within seven days. Mainland China resumed tourist visas for the semi-autonomous region completely last week, just in time for the National Day holiday.

As Chinese vacationers turn to domestic destinations, local governments compete with each other to attract tourists. According to Ctrip, more than 20 provincial and municipal governments have issued travel vouchers, while some 1,500 tourist sites across China have offered free or discounted tickets.

Chinese rail operator, China State Railway Group, planned a total of 108 million train journeys since From September 28 to October 8. To meet the increased demand, 1,200 more trains were added to the service, but some tickets along popular routes were still purchased.

Some flights are also sold out. Qunar, a Chinese online travel booking site, estimated that more than 15 million domestic air tickets would be sold for Golden Week, a 10% increase from 2019, partly due to a drop the price of plane tickets.

And on Chinese highways, massive traffic jams are expected again this year. An average of 51 million road trips per day is expected during the eight vacation days, an increase of 1 to 3% from last year, according to the Ministry of Transport.

Tourists take a selfie at the Yellow Crane Tower in Wuhan on September 3, 2020.

Tourists take a selfie at the Yellow Crane Tower in Wuhan on September 3, 2020.

HECTOR RETAMAL / AFP / AFP via Getty Images

Wuhan, the original epicenter of the outbreak, has become a popular destination for Chinese tourists since its lockdown was lifted in April. Last month, Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital, announced that nearly 400 of its tourist attractions will be open to tourists for free until the end of the year. On a reservation platform set up by the province since the announcement, more than 3.74 million tickets to Wuhan tourist sites have been booked in just over a month, according to the Hubei Daily.

The Yellow Crane Tower, a famous landmark in Wuhan, was at the top of the list of Golden Week’s most sought-after attractions, according to Ctrip.

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