Travel Risk: HIGH
The People’s Republic of China borders 14 countries set across five time zones. To date, the most populous country in the world has maintained a strict COVID-19 policy since its first outbreak in December 2019. However, the spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant in China has led to tighter restrictions affecting both travellers and businesses alike.
Why is the zero-COVID-19 policy still in place? What are the results?
China’s zero-COVID-19 policy is like playing the popular whack-a-mole game; as soon as one outbreak is contained, another pops up. The policy’s achievement in keeping the virus at bay as compared to multiple surges experienced in other countries has led to the Chinese government doubling down on measures to stamp out the highly transmissible Omicron variant. By March-end, a lockdown in Shanghai imposed strict mobility restrictions leading to shortages in essential supplies such as food and medicines. As daily testing and contact tracing became the norm, individuals stepping outside were required to take temperature checks, present negative nucleic test results, and scan their health codes. To eradicate infections, the affected areas were cordoned off with affected individuals and their close contacts quarantined at institutional facilities. It is common parlance that as infections grow, mobility restrictions tighten which are imposed through work-from-home orders, closure of non-essential shops, and rigorous policing by grass root-level volunteers preventing people from stepping outside.
What are the stakes involved?
The hastily-planned lockdowns have affected elderly people, pregnant women, and those with high-risk diseases as lack of access to medical treatment for ailments other than COVID-19 has resulted in deaths. Apart from the social distress caused by restrictions on mobility, the zero-COVID-19 policy has also been unrewarding to businesses alike. China’s economic output in April 2022 shrunk due to lower consumer spending, and the imposition of strict quarantine measures on affected workers. This has slowed domestic operations and created bottlenecks in supply chains, including those for big names such as Apple, Tesla, Samsung, etc. Also, the incentive to travel to China remains bleak in the short term as the government remains reluctant in dismantling its zero-COVID-19 approach.
- Experts suggest inoculating the Chinese populace with mRNA vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna due to the relative lower efficacy offered by the Chinese-made inactivated vaccines.
- Shanghai’s residents recommend “Group-buying” during times of strict lockdowns as it helps curb food shortages, and, at the same time, tones down expenses.
- Travellers are advised to take PCR tests before boarding public transport or while accessing public spaces. This advisory is currently in effect in Shanghai, Beijing and Shenzhen.
- Globally, there have been calls to cull domestic restrictions in China due to supply chain bottlenecks. This has received some response from the government as they mull over measures to reduce its quarantine period, phased removal of restrictions in Shanghai and non-imposition of a lockdown in Beijing after the catastrophic lockdown in Shanghai.
Is it safe to travel to China during COVID lockdowns?
- Rachel Meets China opines about ‘the time of the foreigners’ in China wherein mental-health challenges and higher costs associated with the pandemic measures have led to an exodus of expatriates, businesses and political relationships given the stringent visa restrictions and inability to travel due to mobility restrictions. However, the travel blogger remains optimistic stating that “We can’t fully predict the future, and it can be mentally draining to try to do so, so all we can do is try to adapt to the situations we are facing now.”
- Anthony Tao, a Beijing resident, remains positive that the Chinese government has learnt its lesson from its strict lockdown in Shanghai. Nevertheless, he remains pessimistic about the government reversing its stance on the zero-COVID-19 policy with an increased focus on mass testing and quarantine measures to avoid a Shanghai-style lockdown.
- Keeping an eye on COVID case numbers and the trends might help you avoid travelling to a region that could be locked down.
China’s zero-COVID-19 policy has sought to prevent a million deaths and fifty million infections thereby aiming to reduce its burden on healthcare facilities. However, the costs of its inflexible policy have brought certain cons as travellers remain tepid to make travel plans and businesses like Airbnb and South Korea’s Lotte exiting China to shift their business presence elsewhere. As the people and the economy reel under the pressure of China’s strict health measures, the onus is largely on the government to make its socio-economic conditions viable to outsiders.
Travellers may consider a Sitata membership which can inform them about the current COVID situation for their destination in China. This can help them avoid an unwanted quarantine. Sitata also provides disruption and threat warnings for other events along with emergency travel assistance should the need arise.