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Online searches for Chinese airline tickets on domestic and international routes spiked Wednesday after Beijing said it would reduce COVID-19 quarantine requirements and make changes to a mandatory mobile app for local travel.
The unexpected moves mark a significant easing of the stiff curbs that have severely curtailed travel and mistreated the Chinese economy, although tough measures remain in place including a shortage of international flights, and many social media users have expressed caution.
The industry ministry said Wednesday that a Chinese mobile app that shows if a person has traveled to a Chinese city with COVID-affected areas will no longer mark that story with an asterisk, one of many means China has for tracking and curb the virus from spreading.
CHINA REDUCES COVID QUARANTINE TIME FOR INTERNATIONAL TRAVELERS
The asterisk has helped local authorities impose limits such as quarantines and COVID tests, and has sparked widespread complaints.
“It seems like a small step, but it’s a pretty big step,” wrote a Twitter-like user on Weibo, where the ad quickly became the main topic with over 200 million views.
It came the day after Beijing loosened quarantine rules and when Shanghai resumed dining at the restaurant after a two-month lockdown that stopped China’s largest city and infuriated residents.
The two policies have triggered a wave of travel requests.
The Qunar platform reports that searches for airline tickets increased by 60% and doubled for hotels in the 30 minutes following Wednesday’s announcement.
Rival Ly.com reported a similar increase and reported a surge in interest in tickets to China from locations including Japan, Singapore and South Korea.
Wait and see the approach
China’s zero-COVID policies have almost completely wiped out international business and leisure travel, while domestic travel has also been hit hard by China’s response to the April and May outbreaks of the highly contagious Omicron variant, which has brought drastic lockdowns in several cities.
This week’s easing measures follow a recent dramatic decrease in locally transmitted infections.
“It is too early to say how much this will inspire people to travel, as they will in all likelihood still face fairly rigorous testing requirements wherever they go nationwide,” said Ben Cavender, chief executive officer of the China Market Research Group.
As the rest of the world tries to live with the virus, China has vowed to stick to its hard limits, with President Xi Jinping reiterating that the strategy was “fair and effective” and should be firmly followed.
Many would-be travelers said on social media and in chat rooms that they were taking a wait-and-see approach before trying to book tickets, citing a shortage of flights and government limits on new passports for Chinese people trying to go abroad for deemed reasons. non-essential.
Most flights in China limited themselves to filling 75% of their seats. The country also has a “circuit breaker” system that requires carriers to suspend flights if they have a certain number of COVID-positive passengers.
On Tuesday, the number of international flights, including Macau, Hong Kong and Taiwan, this year stood at around 4% of pre-COVID levels, according to consultancy Variflight.
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Ticket prices are way above normal. One-way tickets from Singapore to China’s Shanghai Mall cost between 50,000 and 70,000 yuan ($ 7,460 and $ 10,590) with China Eastern Airlines for the period between July and September, for example.
“There are very few flights, the prices of air tickets are skyrocketing. In reality, it is not possible to organize international group travel,” said Zhou Weihong, deputy general manager of the Shanghai-based Spring Tour travel agency.