BEIJING: People joined long queues outside immigration offices in Beijing on Monday, eager to renew their passports after China dropped COVID border controls that had largely prevented its 1.4 billion residents from travelling for three years. Sunday’s reopening is one of the last steps in China’s dismantling of its “zero-COVID” regime, which began last month after historic protests against curbs that kept the virus at bay but caused widespread frustration among its people.
Waiting to renew his passport in a line of more than 100 people in China’s capital, 67-year-old retiree Yang Jianguo told Reuters he was planning to travel to the United States to see his daughter for the first time in three years.
“She got married last year but had to postpone the wedding ceremony because we couldn’t go over to attend it. We’re very glad we can now go,” Yang said, standing alongside his wife.
China’s currency and stock markets strengthened on Monday, as investors bet the reopening could help reinvigorate a $17 trillion economy suffering its lowest growth in nearly half a century.
Beijing’s move to drop quarantine requirements for visitors is expected to boost outbound travel, as residents will not face those restrictions when they return.
But flights are scarce and several nations are demanding negative tests from visitors from China, seeking to contain an outbreak that is overwhelming many of China’s hospitals and crematoriums. China, too, requires pre-departure negative COVID tests from travellers.
China’s top health officials and state media have repeatedly said COVID infections are peaking across the country and they are playing down the threat now posed by the disease.
“Life is moving forward again!,” the official newspaper of the Communist Party, the People’s Daily, wrote in an editorial praising the government’s virus policies late on Sunday which it said had moved from “preventing infection” to “preventing severe disease”.
“Today, the virus is weak, we are stronger.”
Officially, China has reported just 5,272 COVID-related deaths as of Jan. 8, one of the lowest rates of death from the infection in the world.
But the World Health Organization has said China is under-reporting the scale of the outbreak and international virus experts estimate more than one million people in the country could die from the disease this year.
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