China contained Covid-19. Now, hundreds of millions of people there are about to go on vacation at the same time
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 the National Day holiday, one of the busiest times for travel in the world’s most populous country.
Tourists crowd the Leshan Giant Buddha in China’s Sichuan province during the National Day holiday in 2019.
Liu Zhongjun/China News Service/VCG/Getty Images
But for now, the virus is much less of a concern for Chinese holidaymakers, given China’s close to zero local transmission and some of the world’s strictest border control measures.
Chen Qianmei, a 29-year-old from the southern city of Guangzhou, flew to Shanghai on Tuesday for her Mid-Autumn Festival vacation. She said she wasn’t worried about the virus, although she still took precautions.
“I think China has (the virus) under pretty good control,” she said. “I’m wearing masks and bringing alcohol wipes with me to clean my hands, especially before eating — although in Shanghai, few people wear masks now.”
Chinese security personnel keep watch on the crowds on a popular pedestrian shopping street during the ‘Golden Week’ holiday in Shanghai in 2017.
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Show of confidence
The coronavirus, first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan last December before spreading across the globe, has been largely contained in China since March. In the following months, small-scale outbreaks have occasionally flared — from the country’s northeast to the capital Beijing and the far western region of Xinjiang, but all were swiftly contained through stringent lockdown measures and mass testing programs.
China has not reported any locally transmitted symptomatic case since mid-August, and is rigorously screening overseas arrivals and workers at risk of exposure to the virus. Last week, it detected its first local asymptomatic infections in over a month, after two port workers unloading frozen imported seafood in Qingdao tested positive for the virus in routine screening.
Two residents walk in an empty park during the Lunar New Year holiday on January 27 in Wuhan, China.
The sense of control is in stark contrast to the anxiety and foreboding that had overshadowed China’s last major travel period — the Lunar New Year holiday in late January. Back then, the coronavirus outbreak was sweeping 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 people headed home for family reunions or took vacations overseas.
But the center still recommended travelers obey local epidemic control measures, wear masks on trains, flights and in crowded places, and keep 1-meter (3.2 feet) distance at tourist spots — the last of which could be difficult if not impossible to observe, given the size of crowds that often inundate popular sites during Chinese holidays.
Last week, China’s Culture and Tourism Ministry ordered tourist sites to restrict capacity to 75% during the Mid-Autumn Festival, up from a limit of 50% from previous months. To facilitate contact tracing, visitors are required to register online in advance.
Tourists wearing face masks line up outside the Yellow Crane Tower in Wuhan, China on September 3.
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Domestic travel boost
Chinese authorities — including the Chinese CDC and foreign ministry — have urged Chinese citizens to avoid unnecessary overseas travel, citing the still-raging pandemic across the world.
Chinese tourists wait for their tour bus in the Ginza shopping district on October 02, 2019 in Tokyo, Japan.
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But this year, overseas trips will be practically impossible to make, given the various visa restrictions and quarantine requirements imposed around the world, as well as a lack of international flights. Upon their return to China, travelers must also face two weeks of strict quarantine — with at least half of the time required to be spent in government-appointed hotels.
The only exception is Macau, which waived quarantine requirements in July for mainland travelers who obtained a negative test result for coronavirus within seven days. Last week, mainland China fully resumed tourist visas for the semi-autonomous region, just in time for the National Day holiday.
Tourists take a selfie at the the Yellow Crane Tower in Wuhan on September 3, 2020.
HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/AFP via Getty Images