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Online searches for Chinese plane tickets on domestic and international routes surged on Wednesday, after Beijing announced it would ease COVID-19 quarantine requirements and made changes to a state-mandated mobile app used for local trips.
The unexpected measures mark a significant easing of the rigid restrictions that have drastically reduced travel and hurt the Chinese economy, although strict measures remain in place, including a scarcity of international flights, and many social media users have made exercise caution.
The Industry Ministry said on Wednesday that a Chinese mobile app that tracks whether a person has traveled to a Chinese city with COVID-affected areas will no longer mark that story with an asterisk, one of many ways that has China to track and curb the virus. possible spread.
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The asterisk has helped local authorities impose restrictions such as quarantines and COVID testing, and has prompted numerous complaints.
“It looks like a small step, but it’s a big enough step,” wrote one user on Weibo, which looks like Twitter, where the ad quickly became the main topic with more than 200 million views.
It came a day after Beijing eased quarantine rules and Shanghai resumed restaurants after a two-month lockdown that brought China’s biggest city to a standstill and infuriated residents.
Both policies have triggered an increase in travel inquiries.
The Qunar platform reports that searches for air tickets increased by 60% and doubled for hotels within 30 minutes of Wednesday’s announcement.
Rival Ly.com reported a similar increase and reported renewed interest in tickets to China from places including Japan, Singapore and South Korea.
Wait and see the approach
China’s zero-COVID policies have nearly wiped out international business and leisure travel, while domestic travel has also been hit hard by China’s response to outbreaks in April and May of the highly infectious Omicron variant, which led to drastic blockages in several cities.
This week’s easing measures follow a recent dramatic decrease in locally transmitted infections.
“It’s too early to say how much this will entice people to travel because in all likelihood they will still face quite stringent testing requirements wherever they travel in the country,” said Ben Cavender, chief executive. of the China Market Research Group.
As the rest of the world tries to live with the virus, China has pledged to abide by its restrictions, with President Xi Jinping reiterating that the strategy is “correct and effective” and must be firmly adhered to.
Many would-be travelers have said on social media and in chat rooms that they are taking a wait-and-see approach before trying to book tickets, citing a shortage of flights and government limits on new passports for Chinese wishing to travel. traveling abroad for reasons deemed non-essential.
Most flights to China have been limited to filling 75% of their seats. The country also has a “circuit breaker” system requiring carriers to suspend flights if they have a certain number of COVID-positive passengers.
As of Tuesday, the number of international flights, including to Macau, Hong Kong and Taiwan, for this year stood at about 4% of pre-COVID levels, according to consultancy Variflight.
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Ticket prices are way above normal. One-way tickets from Singapore to Shanghai China Business Center cost between 50,000 and 70,000 yuan ($7,460 and $10,590) on China Eastern Airlines for the period between July and September, for example.
“There are very few flights, the prices of air tickets are exorbitant. In fact, it is not possible to organize international group travel,” said Zhou Weihong, deputy general manager of the agency. Spring Tour travel company based in Shanghai.