Sanya lockdown traps tens of thousands of tourists in ‘Hawaii in China’

Chinese authorities hastily locked down the southern coastal city of Sanya over the weekend, trapping tens of thousands of holidaymakers after a highly infectious strain of Omicron coronavirus was detected in the province known as ” Chinese Hawaii”.

Covid-19 cases in China’s Hainan province rose rapidly over the week to a total of 828, forcing authorities to abruptly announce a lockdown early Saturday morning.

Public transport was suspended, travelers were removed from planes on the tarmac and motorists were turned away from checkpoints at exits from the 1-minute seaside town, according to local reports and social media.

China’s state broadcaster CCTV reported on Friday that the outbreak was attributable to the infectious BA.5 Omicron subvariant, which prompted the reintroduction of restrictions in cities across China and became the dominant strain in Western countries.

Travel has been restricted to emergency services and visitors will have to take five nucleic acid tests in seven days to leave the island, according to state media. It was not immediately clear when the measures would be lifted.

A video has circulated on social media of a local official at Sanya airport, protected by a circle of police, using a megaphone to tell crowds of stranded travelers that they would be booked into free hotels rather than hotels. be allowed to leave.

“We want to go home, go home, go home,” the crowd chanted, prompting the official to flee.

President Xi Jinping has pledged to prioritize eradicating coronavirus outbreaks to protect the Chinese people over the economy. Since the release of Shanghai’s financial hub from a two-month lockdown in June, sporadic Covid outbreaks have crippled cities across the country.

Sanya, the main destination in Hainan Province, is famous for its five-star resorts and luxury duty-free shops. Hainan previously benefited from Beijing’s Covid restrictions, which prevented wealthy Chinese from vacationing in Thailand or Europe and generating high-end spending at home.

But Sanya’s lockdown will mark the latest blow to China’s tourism industry and efforts to boost the struggling economy through consumer spending. The economy narrowly missed a contraction in the second quarter.

In the first half of the year, tourist travel fell by 22%, while travel spending collapsed by 28%, according to government statistics.

Sanya vacationers have taken to social media to complain about their lockdown. Some have reported that the city has asked hotels to reduce prices to half market prices.

“The hotel swimming pool and gym are closed. . . we still have to pay for food,” lamented a user on social media platform Weibo. “Reception is telling customers to go and complain to the government if they can’t accept this situation.”

Others posted videos of travelers forced to sleep on the floor in the airport terminal and queuing for hours for Covid tests. Local authorities reported 285 additional cases in the city on Sunday.

While attempting to suppress Covid inside the country with a combination of lockdowns, mass testing and other restrictions, Beijing has also drastically reduced inbound travel for citizens and foreigners.

The number of flights into the country each day has plunged from pre-pandemic levels, and the aviation regulator has introduced policies to automatically suspend routes if a flight exceeds a Covid case threshold, creating unrest for travelers and carriers.

The Civil Aviation Administration of China, the regulator, announced a slight relaxation of the automatic suspension policy on Sunday. In June, it cut its mandatory quarantine period for international travelers in half, to one week.

Additional reporting by Sun Yu in Beijing

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