For the millions of Chinese citizens living outside of their country, the past two years have been arduous in being separated from family. Now that the rest of the world is opening up quickly, China’s stringent zero-Covid policy is just to much to accept for many of these ex-pats.
Beijing’s zero-COVID strategy has had dire consequences for the millions Chinese living abroad, most of whom have been unable to see family and friends at home for two years even as the rest of the world eases travel restrictions.
Some cannot afford the sky-high cost of flights and others fear getting stuck in harsh lockdown on arrival. All of them are anxious about the well-being of loved ones back in China.
Ba Lina, a marketing executive based in London, is ridden with guilt over not being able to see her ageing parents.
“I feel helpless and angry, I haven’t been able to see my family for years,” she said.
Reuters spoke with a dozen Chinese nationals in New York, London, Sydney and Singapore about their frustration at being separated from their families in China.
For starters, prices of international flights to China have soared. A one-way ticket within the next six months from Singapore to Guangzhou costs about 80,000 yuan ($12,088.43) due to limited flights with only business-class seats available. Pre-pandemic, the same trip on economy class cost under $370.
Li Wenqi booked a flight from London to China in early 2021 after he graduated from a British university with a masters degree in finance. But he said the flight was suspended multiple times and he was asked to top up the fare by an “exorbitant” amount before he could fly.
“I have given up, I’ll just stay in London. It will even be harder for me to find a job in China given the lockdown situation there,” said Li, who is now working as a waiter in London.
Those lucky enough to return to their homeland face being locked down on arrival under some of the most stringent restrictions seen anywhere in the world during the pandemic.
In Shanghai, the epicentre of China’s coronavirus outbreak, some residents have complained of being forcibly removed from their homes and bussed to makeshift quarantine centres as part of the city’s strict lockdown measures.
Tony Zeng, a Singapore permanent residency holder who got stuck in a lockdown during a visit to China this year, said he was contemplating a change of citizenship.
“After seeing the inefficiency of the Chinese government in dealing with COVID and heavy censorship of COVID-related information that is not in favour of the government, I prefer staying in Singapore now, and perhaps consider converting citizenship down the road,” he said.
Bingqin Li, a professor of social policy and governance at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, said China’s strict lockdowns were undermining faith in the government.
“The lockdowns and chaos are affecting the confidence level of people towards the government … the longer the turning point takes to come, the more (trust in government) will be affected and the longer it will take to recover,” she said.
Arduous Journey Home
To be sure, Chinese living abroad can still return if they are determined.
Travellers from Singapore, for example, have to take a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test seven days prior to departure, a PCR test and an IgM anti-body blood test two days prior to departure, and another PCR test 12 hours before the flight.
They then have to apply for a “health code” with their mobile phone by uploading the certifications. An Antigen Rapid Test (ART) six hours prior to departure is also required, before they can finally board the plane.
Only those who had a Chinese vaccine are eligible for waivers of the IgM anti-body blood test. Such requirements may vary slightly across countries.
On arrival in China, travellers have to be quarantined at a designated hotel for 14 to 28 days depending on the city, followed by additional days of home quarantine.
The Chinese foreign ministry said China’s COVID measures were designed to protect the people, including from imported cases.
The National Immigration Administration said “strict and tight” border controls were needed as COVID-19 continues to spread across the world.
“I can understand why it is so strict as the Chinese population is huge, but it is very painful to bear,” said Xiang Xiaoxue, a Chinese living in Singapore.
($1 = 6.6179 Chinese yuan renminbi)
(Reporting by Chen Lin in Singapore; Editing by Stephen Coates)
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