On Tuesday, searches for popular destinations on the travel platform Ctrip increased tenfold within half an hour of the news that China would stop requiring inbound travelers to quarantine starting on January 8th.
The most sought-after destinations were Macau, Hong Kong, Japan, Thailand, and South Korea. Similarly, data from another platform, Qunar, showed searches for international flights jumped seven-fold within 15 minutes of the news, with Thailand, Japan, and South Korea at the top of the list.
COVID Spreads Unchecked Across China as Borders Reopen
As China prepares to reopen its borders, the COVID-19 virus is spreading largely unchecked across the country of 1.4 billion people. Official statistics show only one COVID death in the past week, raising doubts among health experts and residents about the accuracy of the government's data.
International health experts estimate millions of daily infections and predict at least one million COVID deaths in China next year. Despite the risks, authorities are determined to dismantle the last remnants of their zero-COVID policies.
The National Health Commission announced on Monday that China will stop requiring inbound travelers to quarantine starting on January 8th, and COVID management in the country will be downgraded to the less strict Category B.
China's Healthcare System Strained as COVID Cases Rise
As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in China, the country's healthcare system is under strain. Doctors report hospitals being overwhelmed with five to six times more patients than usual, most of them elderly. Some cities are struggling to secure supplies of anti-fever drugs, and nurses and doctors are being asked to work while sick.
Retired medical workers in rural communities are being rehired to help. Funeral parlors are also reporting a surge in demand for their services, with some people in the eastern Shandong province having to wait three to five days for cremation.
While the country's economy is expected to rebound later next year, the near term will be difficult as workers fall ill and supply chains are disrupted.