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COVID lockdown turns Chinese tourist hotspot Sanya into a nightmare for stranded tourists

COVID lockdown turns Chinese tourist hotspot Sanya into a nightmare for stranded tourists
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People are seen outside restaurants in Houhai town in Sanya, Hainan province, China November 26, 2020. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang/File photo

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BEIJING/SHANGHAI, Aug 7 (Reuters) – When Chinese businesswoman Yang Jing was planning this year’s summer vacation in 2021, she chose the southern tropical island of Hainan because of its almost perfect COVID record.

The island in the South China Sea recorded only two symptomatic positive cases of COVID-19 in all of last year. Fast-forwarding to this month, however, the number of cases suddenly spiked, prompting a lockdown in the city of Sanya and leaving tens of thousands of tourists like Yang stranded on the island.

Sanya, the island’s main tourist hub, imposed a lockdown on Saturday and restricted transport links to try to stem the outbreak, even as some 80,000 visitors enjoyed its beaches in high season. Many are now stuck inside hotels until next Saturday, if not longer. read more

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Yang, along with her husband and son, are staying at a four-star hotel that she paid for out of her own pocket. The family eats pot noodles every day to avoid spending more on food.

“This is the worst vacation of my life,” Yang, who is in his 40s and lives in southern China’s Jiangxi province, told Reuters on Sunday.

Sanya reported 689 symptomatic cases and 282 asymptomatic cases as of August 1. 1 and Aug. 7. Other cities around Hainan province, including Danzhou, Dongfang, Lingshui and Lingao, reported more than a dozen cases in the same period.

On Saturday, the sale of train tickets from Sanya was suspended, state broadcaster CCTV reported, citing the national carrier, and more than 80% of flights to and from Sanya were cancelled, according to data provider Variflight. .

Hainan has been closed to foreign tourists for the past two and a half years since China, in response to the pandemic, stopped issuing tourist visas and implemented strict quarantine rules.

The Sanya government announced on Saturday that tourists whose flights were canceled would be able to book hotel rooms at half price.

But dozens of tourists complained in WeChat groups on Sunday that their hotels weren’t enforcing that rule and they still had to pay rates similar to the original prices. Two stranded tourists told Reuters they were in that situation.

“Now we are looking for ways to complain and defend our rights, but so far no official body has contacted us or taken any interest in us,” said one of the tourists, a woman from eastern Jiangsu province. from China, who only gave his last name as Zhou.

IT WILL NEVER COME BACK

A foreign tourist living in China honeymooning in Sanya said additional problems for stranded tourists included massive price increases in food delivery fees, hotel meal prices and airfare from Hainan. Food supplies at his hotel were also running low, he said, without wanting to be identified.

“We just hope it doesn’t become another Shanghai,” the tourist said, referring to the city’s recent draconian two-month lockdown.

The outbreak in Hainan is the latest challenge to China’s zero COVID policy, after the chaotic lockdown in Shanghai dented Beijing’s narrative that its handling of the pandemic was superior to that of other countries such as the United States, which has recorded more than a million deaths from COVID.

Domestic visitors have kept Hainan’s tourism industry alive for much of the pandemic, but this sudden shutdown risks driving some tourists away forever.

“In short, we will never go back!” said Zhou, who was on vacation with six other family members.

Sanya authorities have said that stranded tourists can leave the island from next Saturday, provided they have taken five COVID tests and tested negative on all of them.

However, Yang said wait times for test results have been long, leading her to take several tests a day.

“We don’t know who to turn to, the internet only has positive news about Sanya, like… the Sanya municipal government has properly resettled the 80,000 stranded tourists… like the whole country thinks (we) are not victims, but beneficiaries,” he said.

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Information from Martin Quin Pollard and Eduardo Baptista; Edited by Susan Fenton

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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