Tourists trapped in 'China's Hawaii' over COVID to start leaving

August 09, 2022

Sanya is battling its worst outbreak in two years with more than 1,500 cases reported between August 1 and 9, per official data

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Residents and tourists in the southern Chinese province of Hainan line up to be tested for the coronavirus on Monday.— AFP

BEIJING: Tens of thousands of tourists stranded in a COVID-hit resort city in southern China due to travel curbs can begin leaving in batches, authorities said Tuesday, but many remain trapped.

More than 80,000 holidaymakers in Sanya on the island of Hainan — often called "China's Hawaii" — saw their vacations turn into a nightmare when officials declared a COVID emergency and cancelled flights and train ticket sales over the weekend.

Sanya, home to more than a million people, is battling its worst outbreak in two years with more than 1,500 cases reported between August 1 and 9, according to official data.

China is the only major economy still sticking to a zero-COVID strategy that uses snap lockdowns and long quarantine periods to contain outbreaks before they spread.

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The local health bureau on Tuesday announced that some tourists would be permitted to depart Sanya, saying "tour groups in areas without any infections... will be allowed to leave after testing negative for the virus twice over a 48-hour period".

Other travellers in areas with infections but deemed "low-risk" will be allowed to go if they have not displayed COVID symptoms in the past three days and test negative three times in 72 hours.

But those stuck in places labelled medium or high-risk will have to wait until the situation improves.

All entertainment venues including spas, karaoke bars and pubs have been closed in the city since last week.

Hotels in Sanya were ordered on Saturday to offer rooms to stranded visitors at half price until the travel restrictions are lifted.

China's borders have remained largely closed since early 2020, vastly curtailing international tourism.

The latest COVID outbreak comes during peak travel season in Sanya, a popular surfing spot.

A number of Chinese Super League football matches were scheduled to be played in Haikou, the capital of Hainan, in the coming days, but have been postponed indefinitely, organisers said in a statement Monday.

"Due to the impact of the epidemic in Haikou, some games in the 12th round of the 2022 CSL cannot be played normally," the country's Football Association said on China's Twitter-like Weibo platform.

The league has been severely affected by the pandemic, with most teams having to play in empty stadiums since the virus emerged in late 2019.

About one third of the teams are currently in Haikou following recent matches and will be temporarily unable to leave, state media reported.

The six teams are Chengdu Rongcheng, Jinmen Tiger, Shandong Taishan, Hebei, Cangzhou Mighty Lions and Guangzhou.

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