Half a year ago, Yi Yu’s hometown was the first – and one of the strictest – locks in the world.
- Wuhan has welcomed more than 18 million tourists
- Around 640 million travelers have invested $ 96 billion in the economy
- Experts say citizens have “no choice but to follow Beijing’s coronavirus measures”
But during China’s Golden Week earlier this month, the streets of Wuhan, once COVID-19 to zero, were full of tourists.
“Now when I go outside, I can see a lot of people on the street,” Ms. Yu said.
“I saw a lot of people outside a small street food bar the other day. I can say that most of them are tourists. ”
According to official data from the Wuhan Tourism Bureau, the city welcomed more than 18 million tourists during Golden Week, October 1-8.
Golden Week is a weeklong public holiday to celebrate the country’s national day and it usually sparks a surge in tourism – almost all of it in 2020 due to international border closings.
According to the China Ministry of Culture and Tourism, 637 million Chinese tourists traveled to Golden Week this year, bringing in 466.6 billion Chinese yuan (about $ 96.4 billion) into the economy.
Among the travelers was Ms. Yu’s grandfather, who is in his 80s and contracted COVID-19 symptoms at the height of the Wuhan pandemic in February.
While he chose to stay close to home and take a road trip to the outskirts of Wuhan with just Ms. Yu’s sister, others traveled much further afield.
Among them was Shengwei Ye, who told ABC last month that he would have loved to have spent Golden Week in Australia if it hadn’t been for the pandemic.
Instead, he traveled from his home in Shenzhen in the southeast to Xinjiang, an autonomous region in the far northwest.
Mr. Ye, who travels frequently on business, said he was impressed with the overcrowding of the airport.
“I think there were probably more people than there was on the Chinese New Year holidays,” he said, comparing it to the usually busiest travel time.
The Ministry of Culture and Tourism said the number of travelers for Golden Week was 80 percent year-over-year, while tourism spending was 70 percent of the pre-pandemic level.
Mass travel without major outbreaks – not yet
Despite the mass movement of hundreds of millions of people, the tourism boom has not yet resulted in a major outbreak of COVID-19 cases a week later.
According to the Johns Hopkins University record, China has officially recorded 90,800 cases and more than 4,700 deaths.
The country currently has 622 active cases, most of which were acquired overseas.
This includes 381 asymptomatic cases that China is recording separately from its official record.
But Qingdao, the largest city in Eastern China’s Shandong Province, is bucking the trend.
Twelve new locally acquired cases were discovered there last Sunday, just three days after the end of Golden Week.
Two more infections had been registered in the city by Wednesday.
In response, authorities have launched a city-wide test flash, which aims to test around 9 million residents over the next five days.
Previously, the last locally acquired case was registered in China in mid-August.
Chinese state media credits the country’s traffic light health code system, which uses popular smartphone apps and QR codes, to enable such a large volume of travel.
The apps synchronize a citizen’s ID and their travel history. Your device pings near cell phone towers to track their location and see if they have been in high or medium risk areas in the past 14 days.
For example, if a person has been to Qingdao in the past few days, their QR code will be red or yellow rather than green.
According to the state news agency Global Times, facial recognition technology has also been adopted by public transport hubs to “verify passengers’ identity and tickets”.
Before the Qingdao outbreak, China had no high or medium risk areas for two months. As Mr. Ye pointed out, travelers on Golden Week would not have been hindered by a poor personal health code.
“But in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, the protocols are much stricter than [in other] Cities, “he said.
The region has long been described as a surveillance state for its Uighur population, where more than a million people from the Muslim-Turkish-speaking ethnic group are detained in re-education centers.
Regarding COVID-19 measures, Ye said Xinjiang has a more advanced temperature testing system that looks like a gate and is contactless.
„“[They] can be seen everywhere and people have to wear a mask all the time, “he said.
In Wuhan, masks are only required on public transport, but Ms. Yu says most people continue to wear them.
“The Chinese are obedient and people were afraid of what happened earlier this year,” she said.
“After such a tragic situation, which I consider a great loss and a lesson, everyone will be much more careful. Even if it’s much safer now.
“Your little action can prevent the big groups from getting into trouble. So why not? “
Keeping the virus – and the citizens – under control
Hui Yang, associate professor and health specialist at Monash University, said China did a good job during the vacation to cope with the large scale of internal mobility.
“China’s approach is strict and active. Hundreds of millions of people were moving in the country and protective measures were in place, ”he said.
He said authorities had “closely monitored” some key populations – for example, close contacts with confirmed cases – and categorized areas by level of risk through contact tracing tools.
Former Chinese diplomat Han Yang, who now lives in Sydney, said China has had relative success in fighting the pandemic compared to many Western countries, in large part due to its political system.
“China is a centralized country with an autocratic system,” he said.
“If the government prioritizes something, the whole country will mobilize together on his orders.
“There is no such mobilization in Western countries. Especially in a state like the United States. “
Mr. Yang said a centralized government like China would use all kinds of technology to strengthen its control over individual rights.
“In a society like China and North Korea, the government can shut down malls, schools, and all businesses with a single order. This is the most effective way to control the epidemic, ”he said.
Long road to spiritual and social recovery
Mr. Ye said he was not concerned about China’s “new normal” after the pandemic.
“I think Chinese medical care is pretty good now and they have a lot of experience dealing with the virus,” he said.
Now he is waiting for the international borders to reopen so that he can travel abroad for his next vacation.
But Ms. Yu said there are other pressing issues that China needs to address.
“During the peak of the Wuhan pandemic, I felt I had some mental health issues,” she said.
“When I saw so much negative news every day, I felt under a lot of pressure.
“And I know some people have certainly been under more pressure than me because I know someone who was hospitalized for the virus, someone lost their friends and family … so mental health will be a big problem.”
She said a friend who contracted COVID-19 and recovered was later turned down for multiple jobs because of the stigma associated with the illness.
“Such workplace discrimination needs to be addressed in the post-pandemic period,” said Ms. Yu.
Dr. Yang said it is far more difficult to restart the social economy under the new normal than it is to solve the health problems caused by the virus.
“It is a big problem to clean up the battlefield, clean up the chaos, reactivate and restore the economy and people’s lives.”
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