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[Update] Reopening of Chinese borders: tourist destinations react

While China has until now applied the 0 Covid policy and kept its borders completely closed, the country is finally deciding to reopen after two years of isolation. While this is good news for tourism professionals around the world, it also worries many countries about a possible resurgence of the epidemic with the influx of Chinese tourists who have been denied travel for so long.

The 0 Covid policy ended on 7 December 2022 in China, three years after the first cases of coronavirus appeared in Wuhan. This lifting of restrictions has led to a strong resurgence of the epidemic in the country. However, the authorities are going to end the mandatory quarantines on arrival in China on 8 January, and will also allow Chinese people to travel abroad.

This is a long-awaited easing of health restrictions for the Chinese, who can once again travel around the world after several years of frustration. The next few months will show whether the clientele will be just as adept at revenge travel as the rest of the world or whether they will still be cautious about the virus.

The first indicators show a strong appetite for tourism recovery. According to the online travel agency Qunar, the volume of searches for international air tickets increased sevenfold in the 15 minutes following the announcement of the new measures for managing the epidemic in the Middle Kingdom.

Data from another online travel platform, Ctrip, shows that search volume for popular foreign destinations increased tenfold over the same period last year within 30 minutes of the announcement.

The search volume for some popular tourist destinations has grown rapidly in the run-up to the Spring Festival, which runs from 21 to 27 January. According to Ctrip, the top 10 tourist destinations are Macau, Hong Kong, Japan, Thailand, South Korea, the US, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia and the UK.

The absence of Chinese customers during last year's recovery in international tourism has penalised many destinations as they are among the tourists with the highest average basket. The year 2023 was expected to bring increased tourism revenues, but the return of this clientele is not without concern for many destinations that had abandoned the testing and vaccination requirement in the interim.

As a precautionary measure, the United States and several countries, including Italy, Spain, India, Taiwan and Japan, announced that they would require negative tests for passengers coming from China. Neighbouring South Korea took the same decision on Friday 30 December.

The same is true in France, where it will come into force on 5 January. In addition to the mandatory pre-boarding test, a PCR test must be carried out on arrival in France and a mask must be worn on planes arriving from China from 1 January.

However, some countries have decided not to change the rules concerning the admission of travellers from China, such as Australia and the United Kingdom, which believe they are "following the appropriate advice of health experts".

The Chinese government was quick to react to these restrictions, as the country considers the Covid tests requested of its citizens wishing to travel to be "unacceptable". Mao Ning, spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, emphasised that this choice was completely arbitrary and "devoid of any scientific basis" and warned that China would be able to "take countermeasures, in accordance with the principle of reciprocity". 

This decision is also deplored by the Airports International Council (ACI) EUROPE, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the World Health Organisation (WHO). They insist that the imposition of restrictions on passengers from China, as France, Italy and Spain have done, is not scientifically justified or based on risk. 

For its part, the Swedish Presidency of the Council of the EU has invited Member States to meet on Wednesday 4 January to decide whether common restrictions should be imposed on travellers from China arriving in the European Union due to the coronavirus outbreak in that country. 

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) also points to the introduction of these restrictive measures. Director General Willie Walsh said in a statement that it was "extremely disappointing to see this ill-considered reinstatement of measures that have proven ineffective over the past three years". Walsh also urged the Chinese government to lift the requirement for pre-departure Covid-19 tests for people travelling to China.

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