China’s easing of travel restrictions sparks surge in travel requests

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Internet search for Chinese air tickets on domestic and international routes rose sharply on Wednesday after Beijing said it would cut COVID-19 quarantine requirements and made changes to a mobile app used by the state for local travel.

The unexpected moves mark a significant easing of the tight restrictions that have severely curtailed travel and hurt China’s economy, though the crackdown remains in place, including a shortage of international flights, and bail has been announced by many social media users.

The Ministry of Industry said on Wednesday that a Chinese mobile app that shows whether a person has traveled in a Chinese city with areas affected by COVID will no longer mark the story with an asterisk, one of many tools China has in place to track and contain the virus. possible spread.


The asterisk has helped local authorities enforce restrictions such as quarantines and COVID testing and has generated numerous complaints.

Travelers walk through the terminal of Beijing Capital International Airport in Beijing, China, March 23, 2022.

Travelers walk through the terminal of Beijing Capital International Airport in Beijing, China, March 23, 2022.
(REUTERS/Tingshu Wang)

“It looks like a small step, but it’s a pretty big step,” a user wrote on a Twitter-like Weibo, where the ad quickly became a mainstream topic with over 200 million views.

It comes a day after Beijing eased lockdown rules and Shanghai reopened restaurants after a two-month lockdown that brought China’s largest city to a standstill and infuriated residents.

These two policies have caused a surge in travel requests.

Search platform Qunar reports that flight searches are up 60% and hotel searches have doubled in the 30 minutes following Wednesday’s announcement.

Competitor reported similar growth and saw a surge in interest in tickets to China from places like Japan, Singapore and South Korea.

Wait and see approach

China’s COVID-19 policy has almost wiped out international business and leisure travel, while domestic travel has also been hit hard by China’s response to outbreaks of the highly contagious Omicron variant in April and May, which led to drastic lockdowns in several cities.

This week’s mitigation measures follow a recent sharp drop in local infections.

“It’s too early to tell how much this will inspire people to travel, as in all likelihood they will still have to deal with fairly stringent testing requirements wherever they travel domestically,” said Ben Cavender, managing director of China Market Research. group.

While the rest of the world tries to live with the virus, China has vowed stick to its hard curbswhile President Xi Jinping reiterated that this strategy is “correct and effective” and should be firmly adhered to.

Many would-be travelers have said on social media and chats that they are taking a wait-and-see approach before attempting to book tickets, citing shortages of flights and government restrictions on new passports for Chinese wishing to travel overseas for reasons deemed disrespectful. significant.

Most flights to China have been limited to 75% capacity. The country also has a “switch off” system in place requiring carriers to suspend flights if they have a certain number of passengers who test positive for COVID.

On Tuesday, international flights, including to Macau, Hong Kong and Taiwan, were about 4% of pre-COVID levels this year, according to consulting firm Variflight.


Ticket prices are much higher than usual. One way tickets from Singapore to Business center of China in Shanghai for example, a cost of 50,000 to 70,000 yuan (7,460 to 10,590 US dollars) on China Eastern Airlines between July and September.

“There are very few flights, airfare is exorbitant. It is actually impossible to organize an international group trip,” said Zhou Weihong, deputy general manager of Shanghai Spring Tour travel agency.