Stranded tourists in China resort island Hainan see hope after protests

Authorities are seen outside a hotel where tourists are stranded due to a Covid-19 lockdown, in Sanya on Aug 13, 2022. PHOTOS: REUTERS

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) - Thousands of tourists stranded for days due to Covid-19 lockdowns on the Chinese resort island of Hainan got a glimmer of hope Sunday (Aug 15) as authorities signalled they could soon return home, but only after local approvals.

Provincial authorities announced that commercial flights for domestic passengers out of Sanya, a popular tourist spot on Hainan’s southern tip, would begin their orderly resumption on Monday, according to a statement on the city’s WeChat account.

However, travellers can fly out provided there are no new cases in their tour groups and hotels within the last seven days.

At a press conference on Sunday, Shanghai authorities said those leaving Hainan will be quarantined at home for three days and then they will need to monitor their health for the next four days.

Tourists in the Chinese seaside resort of Sanya on Hainan Island had been protesting after being stranded for over a week due to Covid-19 lockdowns.

Sunday’s official statements were the clearest yet that offered clues as to when they could leave the island.

Lack of information and clarity earlier had led to frustration, with more than a hundred vacationers at the Wyndham Hotel and the Marriott Yalong Bay protesting, according to a video shared by a guest. 

The Covid-19 outbreak in Hainan province has spread quickly since Aug 1, stranding tens of thousands of tourists on the island dubbed China's Hawaii.

The authorities imposed lockdowns in most of the province's cities, suspending flights and shuttering businesses.

While chartered flights have been arranged to send some travellers home, many are still waiting. Hainan province reported 1,340 cases for Saturday, pushing overall infections for China to 2,467, the highest since May.

During a Saturday visit to Hainan, vice-premier Sun Chunlan said that stranded tourists should be guaranteed services and other provinces and cities should not prevent them from going home, the South China Morning Post reported.

Ms Sun said about 150,000 tourists are stuck in Hainan due to the pandemic and efforts are being made to facilitate their return home, according to the news outlet.

In early guidelines announced on Sunday, authorities said those in Covid-free areas who don’t have symptoms such as fever, cough, loss of smell or muscle pain in the past three days could return after testing negative twice in 48 hours. In low-risk areas, they could return after testing negative three times in 72 hours.

Ms Kary, an expat working in China's eastern Jiangsu province, came to Sanya with her boyfriend to celebrate their two-year anniversary but ended up being locked down in the Wyndham a day after they arrived.

They have been there for more than a week and had nine negative polymerase chain reaction test results, she told Bloomberg on Saturday.

Ms Kary - who did not give her last name for privacy reasons - said more than 100 guests gathered outside the hotel on Friday to demand management stop charging them for food and accommodation with no end in sight to their stays.

The province has said hotels should charge 50 per cent of the market rate, but many tourists find it unacceptable to continue paying, she said.

There were more protests on Saturday, she said, adding that she hopes they will be able to leave soon.

"In the long run, it is really affecting people," Ms Kary said, referring to the Covid-19 curbs. "And it's affecting businesses."

Police were deployed to the Marriott in scenic Yalong Bay on Saturday after guests gathered by the front door to demand transfers, according to Mr Araf, a British national based in China who is staying at the hotel.

Mr Araf told Bloomberg News that people want to go to another hotel after some Marriott staff tested positive for Covid-19.

The cases meant guests will have to quarantine another 10 days and if they become infected, they will be sent to a centralised quarantine facility, he said.

A Marriott spokesman for the hotel did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

"The situation here in Sanya now is absolutely crazy, absolute madness," Mr Araf said in a video he recorded.

Remote video URL

"There were a lot of government people there, police, just guarding the entrance. And literally everyone from the hotel was downstairs, screaming, shouting, crying, just frustrated."

An officer at Yalong Bay police station, when reached by phone, said he did not have details of the incident and could not assist in a request for comment.

A worker at the Covid-19 control task force in Haitang district in Sanya, who declined to give her name, said tourists need to apply to leave with relevant documents and test results.

After the city government approves their departure, travellers will need to purchase their own tickets and wait for city-arranged transportation to the airport, she said.

The Covid-19 flare-ups in a handful of China's popular tourist regions, including Hainan, Xinjiang and Tibet, have disrupted the holidays of thousands of travellers.

The country's Covid-zero policy that deploys snap lockdowns and mandatory quarantine for close contacts and isolation of positive cases, have made it a gamble for visitors.

Despite the social and economic toll, Chinese President Xi Jinping has repeatedly said that zero tolerance remains the right approach to fighting the virus.

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