News analysis

Covid-19 flare-up takes sheen off China's Golden Week holidays

A resident receiving a nucleic acid test for Covid-19 in Nanjing, China, on Aug 5, 2021.PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING - Before leaving for a beach holiday in tropical Hainan province, social media executive Mirage Qi had a to-do list. At the top was a Covid-19 nucleic acid test.

"Even though we called ahead to check with our hotel, which said it was not necessary since we were coming from Beijing, which does not have any Covid-19 cases, it's better to play safe," she told The Straits Times.

In July, she was turned away by several hotels in Sichuan for not having taken a nucleic acid test. At the time, there was a small outbreak in the provincial capital, Chengdu, with clusters in tourist destinations linked to an outbreak at a Nanjing airport.

A fresh outbreak in Fujian province has led Ms Qi not to leave things to chance.

"If we have to do such tests before we go on holiday, so be it. I would rather be prepared than to let my vacation get ruined by such things. We've all been unable to travel out (of the country) for too long," she said.

The current outbreak in Fujian province, which has been attributed to the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus, has affected at least three cities: Quanzhou, Putian and Xiamen.

Xiamen, which has a weekly flight from Singapore, has since banned all transport out of the city, enforcing a de facto lockdown.

Last week, the authorities predicted that the situation would be under control before the end of the month, allowing for freer travel during the week-long National Day holidays beginning Oct 1.

But the outlook now seems somewhat bleaker.

The health authorities on Monday (Sept 20) reported 28 new cases in the province, bringing the total number of infections in the current outbreak to 366, including three asymptomatic cases.

Many of those infected are primary school pupils who have not been vaccinated - local media reported that the current outbreak stemmed from a student's father who had returned from Singapore but tested negative thrice during his two-week quarantine.

There are also concerns that as the double holidays get under way - a three-day Mid-Autumn Festival holiday began on Sunday - the virus could spread to other provinces. Even without the holidays, some 30,000 people had left Putian between Aug 26 and Sept 11.


The Covid-19 outbreak during the summer vacations this year in China has dealt a major blow to the travel industry. PHOTO: AFP

But tour operators are already bracing themselves for a spate of cancellations and possible lacklustre travel figures.

While the number of journeys taken bounced back before the end of last year, the outbreak during this year's summer vacations has dealt a major blow to the travel industry.

"We notice that our customers have been going on shorter trips because they, too, are worried that the situation might change while they're on the road and they get stranded," said Mr Song Ze, who runs a boutique travel firm in Beijing that specialises in luxury holidays.

Early last month, day trippers were stranded outside Beijing after the city closed its borders in the face of rising Covid-19 infections in neighbouring provinces. Videos circulating on social media showed police officers turning back residents trying to re-enter the city.

Localised Covid-19 outbreaks have meant even tighter travel policies at state-linked companies. Many of its workers have not left the cities where they are employed for close to a year because of travel restrictions to curb the spread of the disease.

"Given that our company's policies closely follow national policies, as long as there are cases within the country, our bosses will be extra careful about where we can go," said an employee at a state-owned enterprise.

He declined to be named because he is not authorised to speak to the media.

"But emotionally, this makes us very tired. It's probably time for the country to relook at opening up because when you see people in other countries, they coexist with the virus and it seems fine," he said.