COVID lockdown turns China’s tourist hotspot Sanya into a nightmare for stranded tourists

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 history .

The South China Sea island has recorded only two symptomatic positive cases of COVID-19 in the past year. Fast forward to this month, however, and the number of cases suddenly skyrocketed, causing 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 high-season beaches. Many are now stuck inside hotels until next Saturday, if not longer. Read more

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

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

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

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

Hainan has been closed to foreign tourists for 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 have been canceled can book hotel rooms at half price.

But dozens of tourists complained in WeChat groups on Sunday that their hotels did not enforce such a rule and they still had to pay rates similar to the original prices. Two stranded tourists told Reuters they were in such a situation.

“We are now 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 the Jiangsu province in eastern China, who only gave his surname as Zhou.

NEVER RETURN

A foreign tourist who lives in China and was on his honeymoon in Sanya, said additional issues for stranded tourists include massive price hikes in food delivery charges, hotel meal prices, as well as air tickets from Hainan. His hotel’s food supplies are also dwindling, he said, without wanting to be named.

“We just hope it doesn’t turn into another Shanghai,” the tourist said, referring to that 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 shattered Beijing’s narrative that its handling of the pandemic was superior to other countries like the United States. States, which have recorded more than one million COVID deaths.

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

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

Authorities in Sanya said stranded tourists can leave the island from next Saturday, provided they have taken five COVID tests and obtained negative results for each of them.

However, Yang said the wait times for test results were long, prompting her to take multiple tests a day.

“We don’t know who to contact, the internet only has good news about Sanya, like…Sanya city government has successfully resettled the 80,000 stranded tourists…as if the whole country thinks that (we ) are not victims, but beneficiaries,” she said.

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Reporting by Martin Quin Pollard and Eduardo Baptista; Editing by Susan Fenton

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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