Chinese tourists out in force as virus fears recede
Sipping bubble tea and dressed in their holiday finest, millions of Chinese travellers flocked to domestic tourist attractions over the May 1 long holiday with COVID-19 fears already a distant memory.
Beijing's historic alleyways were packed with camera-wielding visitors Tuesday, while a bride dressed in red tulle took wedding photos with her groom outside the Forbidden City.
Out-of-towners also mobbed popular sites in Shanghai over the weekend, many dragging roller bags and snapping selfies against the city skyline.
In Wuhan, where COVID-19 was first reported in late 2019, thousands of maskless revellers cheered and danced shoulder to shoulder at the outdoor Strawberry Music Festival.
China has largely brought the virus under control with strict lockdowns and border controls since mid-2020, with only 17 cases among quarantined travellers reported in the country on Tuesday.
The Chinese economy recorded an explosive 18.3% increase in GDP in the first quarter, and life in China has largely returned to normal aside from occasional small outbreaks, even as a devastating new wave of infections overwhelms neighbouring India.
Limits on flights abroad, and quarantine requirements for anyone entering the country, mean foreign holidays are almost entirely out of the question.
The scenes of merrymaking over the five-day holiday, which ends Wednesday, contrasted starkly with the fear and silence in Chinese cities early last year after millions were told to stay home in the world's first Covid-19 lockdowns.
Travel booking platform Ctrip said it expected up to 200 million people to make trips across China during the five-day period, with hotel bookings up more than 40% from before the pandemic.
Pent-up demand, including from tourists who cancelled plans after several small outbreaks during the Lunar New Year period in February, has pushed flight prices above 2019 prices, according to the company.
But Chinese authorities remain wary of a virus resurgence, urging tourist attractions to limit visitor numbers and requiring travellers to register in advance before entering popular sites.
Zhang, a man from Shijiazhuang in Hebei province visiting Beijing with his family, said he had been looking forward to seeing historic architecture and monuments in the capital.
"The virus has been controlled well, and now the vaccine has already come out, so I feel relatively safe," he told AFP.
And Zhao Mengyu, a high-schooler from suburban Beijing making a day trip to the Nanluoguxiang shopping alley, told AFP: "I think we locals feel pretty fortunate.
"If we were overseas, we might not be able to go out... we wouldn't feel free, and also it would be quite dangerous."