China reopens to the world: hugs and tears after 1,016 days of “lockdown” due to Covid

Of Guido Santevecchi

Families gathered at the landing of the first flights without anti-Covid restrictions

TOHugs of joy and emotion among the Chinese at the airports of Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. In the capital of the People’s Republic, the international arrivals area had been ghostly for the past three yearsthe very few flights concentrated between late night and dawn, passengers channeled by health vigilants, swabbed and immediately and in any case sent to quarantine. Since 2020, many of the Chinese travelers have already shown up sealed in protective suits, like in a horror film; even the stewardesses had had to leave their elegant airline uniforms for white ICU suits.

Yesterday, however, the excitement of family reunions was staged at Beijing airport upon disembarking from flights from Warsaw, Frankfurt and above all Hong Kong. Hugs postponed for 1,016 days: that’s how long the obsessive control of international travel to and from China lasted imposed in March 2020 in the name of the Covid Zero policy now abandoned.

Surprising, almost surreal, the presence of a group of girls with telephoto lenses on their cameras who wanted to capture a glimpse of the seven musicians of the K-pop band «Tempest», who landed from Seoul for the first Chinese tour since January 2020. «It is wonderful to see them in person, they are taller and more beautiful than I imagined them, “he told the reporter of the Reuters 19-year-old Beijing Xiny.

January 8 will therefore be remembered as the day the self-isolation of the People’s Republic of China ended. Those arriving from abroad will no longer be locked in a Covid Hotel room for a week (there were 14 days plus 7 of home observation, at the height of the «prevention programme»). It will take time for traffic to resume its regular flow: for three years the few flights allowed were diverted away from Beijingto hold the political capital sheltered from contagion. Only eight international arrivals were scheduled at Capital International Airport yesterday.

But the companies are making plans on a grand scale. The biggest concession made by the authorities concerns all Chinese: since yesterday Beijing has resumed the issuance and renewal of passports for foreign countriesin addition to ordinary visas and temporary residence permits for foreigners.

The bulk of the flow yesterday was concentrated in Hong Kong, which due to the closure of travel with mainland China has suffered a severe blow to its economy based on tourism and commerce as well as high finance. In the initial phase, 60,000 arrivals and the same number of departures per day by land, sea and air are permitted in the former British colony. The City’s airport has suddenly returned to a busy routine, long queues even stopping at the reservation desks for ferries and high-speed trains. Hong Kong’s approach to reopening remains cautious, those entering or leaving must show a negative swab: this same measure, introduced last week by a dozen countries including the USA and Italy and recommended by the European Union to all member statescaused a protest from the Chinese government which called it “unreasonable and unscientific”.

The scenes of festive confusion in the airports clash with the images that continue to arrive from the hospitals of the Chinese metropolis, which are coping with the wave of infections that spread in December. Authorities and the state press defend the management of the hasty exit from Covid Zero line become too costly on the social and economic front. Beijing claims that ICU admissions “have probably peaked” in large cities, with 80% of beds occupied. But patient numbers could rise rapidly in small and medium-sized centers due to travel planned for the Lunar New Year which falls on January 22. “We are facing an unprecedented challenge,” she said cctv national a senior official of the Central Health Commission. The numbers of the dead remain shrouded in the opacity of Chinese politics. The World Health Organization says China is “underestimating mortality figures”. A euphemism to say that Beijing hides them: Western models predict 1.5 million deaths by March.

January 8, 2023 (change January 8, 2023 | 23:03)

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China reopens to the world: hugs and tears after 1,016 days of “lockdown” due to Covid

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