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

People are seen next to restaurants in Houhai Village, Sanya, China’s Hainan Province, on 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 tropical southern island of Hainan because of its near-perfect Covid track record.

The island in the South China Sea has reported only two positive symptomatic COVID-19 cases in the past year. However, fast-forward to this month and the number of cases has suddenly increased, prompting a lockdown in the city of Sanya and stranding thousands of tourists like Yang on the island.

Sanya, the island’s main tourist hub, imposed a lockdown on Saturday and restricted transport links to try to contain the outbreak, even as nearly 80,000 visitors enjoyed the beach during peak season. Many are now stuck in hotels until next Saturday, if not longer. Read on

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Yang, along with her husband and son, live in a four-star hotel paying from their own pockets. The family is eating pot noodles everyday to avoid spending too much on food.

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

Sanya reported 689 asymptomatic and 282 asymptomatic cases between August 1 and August 7. Other cities around Hainan province, including Danzhou, Dongfang, Lingshui and Lingao, have reported dozens of cases over the same period.

On Saturday, train ticket sales outside Sanya were suspended, state broadcaster CCTV reported, citing the national operator, and more than 80% of flights to and from Sanya were cancelled, according to data provider VeryFlight.

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

Sanya’s government announced on Saturday that tourists who have canceled their flights will be able to book hotel rooms at half the price.

But on Sunday, dozens of tourists complained in WeChat groups that their hotels were not enforcing such a rule and were still being charged the same rates as the original prices. Two stranded tourists told Reuters they were in such a situation.

“We are now looking for ways to complain and protect our rights, but so far no official body has contacted us or taken interest in us,” said one of the tourists, a woman from the eastern Chinese province of Jiangsu. Her last name is Zhou.

never coming back

A foreign tourist who lives in China and honeymooned in Sanya said additional problems for stranded tourists include food delivery fees, hotel meal prices, as well as steep increases in flight tickets out of Hainan. Food was also in short supply in his hotel, he said on condition of anonymity.

“We hope it doesn’t turn into another Shanghai,” said the tourist, referring to that city’s recent strict, two-month lockdown.

The outbreak in Henan is the latest challenge to China’s zero-COVID policy, with the chaotic lockdown in Shanghai undermining Beijing’s narrative that its handling of the epidemic is superior to that of other countries such as the United States, which has recorded more than a million COVID deaths.

Domestic visitors have kept the tourism industry on Hainan alive through several epidemics, but this sudden lockdown threatens to turn some tourists away to better things.

“In short, we’ll never come 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 if they have undergone five Covid tests and received negative results.

However, Yang said the waiting time for test results was too long, prompting her to take multiple tests a day.

“We don’t know who to go to, there are only positive news about Sanya on the internet, like… the Sanya municipal government has properly rehabilitated 80,000 stranded tourists… as if the entire country feels that (we) are not the victims but the beneficiaries,” she said

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Reporting by Martin Quinn Pollard and Eduardo Baptista; Edited by Susan Fenton

Our Standards: Principles of Thomson Reuters Trust.

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