Chinese began rushing at year-end to book international trips as Beijing lifted restrictions on re-entering the country from abroad. Minutes after authorities announced they would end quarantine and testing requirements for inbound passengers, the country’s top travel sites were flooded with searches, and bookings, for overseas flights.
The scramble for the exits comes after China in December lifted domestic COVID restrictions, causing a massive wave of infections across the country, which had been nearly virus-free for much of the pandemic due to rigid control measures. Searches on major online travel platform Qunar reportedly leapt by nearly 700% in the minutes after the loosening of return requirements. Bookings on the main platform run by Trip.com
which owns Qunar, reportedly jumped more than 300% the following day. On Fliggy, the travel platform of Alibaba Group Holding
overseas flight searches jumped more than 800% that week, with a three-year high for inbound search inquiries, Chinese media outlet Guancha reported. Most travelers seemed bound for foreign locations within the region. Top destinations include Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong, according to Trip.com data. Beijing-based animator Li Yuanyuan said she had bought a round-trip ticket to Thailand’s beach getaway Phuket. Li, who said she traveled abroad at least once a year before the pandemic — and before China’s draconian border restrictions — said: “I haven’t left the country in three years. This trip [scheduled for January] is partly a vacation, but also to escape the COVID chaos.” On Tuesday, the Chinese government said it would begin taking applications for new tourism passports in the second week of January. The country had halted passport issuance in early 2020 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to stop people from leaving as well as entering the country and spreading the virus. China has of late experienced the world’s largest explosion of COVID infections, at an estimated million-plus per day, according to minutes released from a December meeting of China’s National Health Commission. As China had been sealed off from the world for nearly the entire duration of the pandemic, the country had little natural immunity up until the beginning of this month, when officials suddenly dropped domestic restrictions such as central isolation for patients, daily testing and the need to show a digital “green pass” to enter most public facilities. Authorities said in Decembe …