COVID Cases in China Surge After Borders Reopen

China reopened its borders, removing the last restrictions from its zero-COVID policy, causing a large surge in COVID cases.

Thousands of people stream across mainland China’s borders, seeking reunion and travel after nearly three years of isolation and strict COVID policy.

Back in January 2020, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, China imposed a lockdown on the city of Wuhan, followed by additional restrictions and policies such as confinement and travel bans, intended to limit COVID cases as much as possible. 

Travelers in the Lok Ma Chau station, preparing to cross between mainland China and Hong Kong (Credit: NPR).

These restrictions, which include regular mass testing and city lockdowns, became a part of China’s zero-COVID policy. Throughout the progression of the pandemic, however, many of these restrictions were lessened after public backlash and protests. 

On January 8, 2023, China officially opened its border to Hong Kong, effectively removing the last restrictions of the zero-COVID policy, which protected its citizens from the virus, but also isolated them from the world. 

Hong Kong maintains a quota of 60,000 people allowed to cross between mainland China and Hong Kong. Already, hundreds of thousands of people have booked travel across the borders, with an estimate of up to 2 billion trips made in the coming season. 

With the increase in travel in and out of China comes the hope of revitalizing its economy and stimulating the travel industry.  

Even so, with the reopening of China’s borders come inevitable concerns. 

On January 14, 2023, China recorded close to 60,000 deaths since the zero-COVID policy was lifted, a notable spike from the previously reported 5,272 deaths directly caused by respiratory failure from COVID since the pandemic began. 

Workers standing in a Beijing neighborhood with protective gear on, before the relaxation of China’s COVID restrictions (Credit: NPR).

“Though it is good that China reopened to the world, it has contributed another outbreak of the COVID-19 virus that is detrimental to others throughout the world,” said sophomore Amelia Zhu. “It’s definitely influencing and impacting other people in the world.”

“I am worried that the virus will continue infecting more people, which may cause the virus to break out in other countries and push us back once again,” said junior Junie Weng. 

However, the World Health Organization and many countries suspected underrepresentation of the extent of its recent COVID outbreak and unreliability regarding the amount of hospitalizations and deaths from the virus.

As a result, many countries such as Japan, Sweden, and Germany imposed travel restrictions on visitors from China. Some of these restrictions require visitors to take a COVID test before leaving China, the testing requirements a precaution against the suspected unreliability of China’s COVID data. 

Many of these countries are also urging a limit on travel to China. 

Travelers bring their luggage through an airport in Beijing following the reopening of China’s borders (Credit: The Guardian).

Regardless, travel to and from China continues to increase with the approach of Lunar New Year, and accompanying this rise is another surge in COVID cases in major cities.

But these outbreaks are not just affecting China’s large cities. There are many concerns about less populated rural areas with the newly unrestricted travel of city workers, which threatens COVID surges in areas that are less equipped to handle COVID cases, lacking specialized equipment to treat the virus. 

“China is a huge country with a large population, but I think they are doing the best they can in the situation. It’s a necessary evil,” said sophomore Yuchen Huang. 

Nevertheless, travel in and out of China will continue as people look forward to visiting their friends and family for the upcoming Lunar New Year holiday after three years of isolation and distancing.