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China and Covid19

Chinese Tourists Travel Abroad Again after ‘Zero Covid,’ but Restrictions on Passengers from China Draw Outrage

China opens its gates while other countries introduce travel restrictions on Chinese passengers. Authorities have condemned the measures.




With China lifting blockades on foreign travel, there’s a post-zero-Covid itch to travel. But while many countries say they welcome Chinese tourists, they also implement restrictions on passengers coming from China. On Chinese social media, people respond to these restrictions with anger, fuelled by media reports describing the rules as a form of foreign revenge and discrimination.

Just as China reopened its borders to quarantine-free travel on 8 January, many foreign countries restarted their tourism marketing campaign for Chinese travelers. As China will resume issuing passports for tourism travel, many Chinese are expected to go abroad again after three years of stringent Covid measures.

On the Chinese social media platform Weibo, where many foreign embassies and tourism boards are also active, countries from all over the world have recently started to post photos and videos to promote local attractions and to celebrate the reopening of China’s borders after three long years.

The Weibo account of Spain’s National Tourism Administration (@西班牙国家旅游局) listed the country’s most famous attractions, writing: “For three whole years, Spain has been eagerly waiting for you!” (“整整三年,西班牙终于等到你”). The Israel Tourist Office (@以色列旅游局) also wrote on Weibo: “Let’s travel again, we will see you in Israel!” (“再次启程吧,以色列与你不见不散!”).

“Where would you like to go?” Chinese media outlet People’s Daily wrote, introducing the hashtag “Many Countries Send out Posts to Welcome Chinese Tourists to Come Visit and Travel” (#多国发微博欢迎中国游客到访旅游#), which has since received over 15 million views. In its post, People’s Daily listed the many different countries’ tourists boards trying their best to catch the attention of Chinese netizens, including the boards of France, Thailand, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Portugal, Austria, and Switzerland, which have all sent out welcoming message to Chinese tourists.

Examples of foreign Weibo accounts promoting their countries (France, Thailand) as the perfect travel destination.

Other Chinese mainstream media presented these welcoming messages as a sign of recognition of China’s Covid policy and its economic recovery from the pandemic.

On January 8th, The Paper (澎湃新闻) published a Weibo post with the hashtag “Many Countries Happy to Welcome Chinese Tourists” (#多国乐见并欢迎中国游客#), stating that China’s revision of its Covid-19 policy has been positively received internationally as it will bring a strong economic recovery that will also boost global economy.

Meanwhile, however, many Chinese netizens do not seem very excited about recent travel invitations from various countries.

Although some Weibo users expressed excitement about being able to travel abroad again, many viewed the China-targeted tourism promotion as a need for Chinese travelers’ money. One commenter wrote: “Let me translate this for you: ‘Foreign countries: Friends from China! We need you to come and develop our economies!'”

Moreover, people criticize some of these countries for lacking sincerity in actually welcoming Chinese tourists. Without waiving visas, these invitations seem like blank checks, especially when arranging a visa for some of these countries is not so easy for Chinese travelers.

Another user replied: “None of them are waiving visa requirements, they want to make money but are not sincere. We’re better off traveling within China.”

‘Discriminatory’ Entry Restrictions on China

Despite the many countries welcoming Chinese travelers, the severity of China’s Covid outbreak has recently led them to impose travel restrictions for passengers from China. Foreign authorities expressed concerns that the number of Covid-positive inbound travelers might impact their own national epidemic situation.

Some countries, such as the U.S., UK, and India, require a mandatory negative Covid-19 test result within 48 or 72 hours before departure for travelers from China. Others, like Japan and Italy, require testing upon arrival and quarantine for those who test positive. South Korea raised the bar for Chinese tourists by requiring a negative Covid test before boarding, another after landing, and quarantine for positive passengers. South Korea also temporarily suspended short-term visas for Chinese nationals. Morroco has even decided to ban entry to all travelers from mainland China from entering the border.

Many Chinese netizens responded to the new restrictions with resentment and anger, partly fuelled by Chinese media reports describing the rules as a form of foreign revenge, discrimination against the Chinese, and political conspiracy.

Using the hashtag “Some Countries’ Newly Imposed Rules Treat Chinese Travelers Differently” (#部分国家新规区别对待中国旅客#), The Paper (澎湃新闻) listed the travel restrictions imposed by the EU, Japan, South-Korea, and Morocco in detail, commenting that Morocco’s banning of Chinese tourists lacks scientific evidence and is purposely targeting Chinese nationals.

The Paper also criticized the U.S. restrictions as “only targeting tourists from China,” and condemned U.S. politicians and media for continuously fabricating the risk of virus mutation and spreading lies about the lack of transparency in China regarding the outbreak.

Social media users also say the new restrictions are discriminating against Chinese, and some call them a “humiliation.”

One Weibo user posted screenshots of a New York Times article in Chinese by author Frankie Huang titled “America’s Covid Test Requirement for Chinese Travelers Is a Farce” (“针对中国的旅行限制是一场闹剧“) (English version). The Weibo user quotes and highlights the article’s argument that the restriction targeting travelers from China is “a policy of racism.” In the article, the author suggests that the U.S. travel restrictions for passengers from China perpetuates “centuries-old tropes of Asians as the “diseased other” and the notion that the coronavirus is, in fact, the “China virus.””

Chinese Travelers Receive “Humiliating Treatment” in South Korea

Other social media users tie the discussion around the restrictions on travelers from China to a broader human rights debate, such as in a recent article titled “Chinese Travelers Received Humiliating Treatment in South Korea: Receive Yellow Cards Which Must Be Hung Around Neck” (“中国旅客遭韩国侮辱性对待:被发放黄色识别牌,要求必须套脖子上”).

In the article, the author, associate professor Wang Jin (王晋) from the Middle Eastern Studies department of Xibei University, accuses South Korea of violating human rights and treating people as “criminals” by only giving Chinese travelers yellow tags to hang around their necks upon landing. This ‘yellow card’ topic also became a much-discussed one on Weibo (#赴韩中国游客一下飞机就被挂黄牌#).

Yellow card given to Chinese passengers landing in South Korea (image via Wang Jin).

The author also condemns practices such as charging fees for Covid-19 testing & quarantine and reducing flights from China for being “disrespectful” and “intentionally thwarting normal cross-border interactions.” In their replies, netizens also echo the author’s argument and condemn high testing fees, uncomfortable quarantine hotels, and violation of Chinese travelers’ privacy.

Some recent viral videos on Chinese social media showed Chinese travelers undergoing isolation after arriving into Jeju Island, with some of them claiming they had gone on a hunger strike to protest the circumstances of their isolation.

Some see the restrictions that are now implemented internationally as ammunition for counterarguments against those who have been advocating for China’s opening up and supporting foreign countries’ normalization of Covid-19. Under a Weibo post introducing the restriction imposed by Japan, Weibo users flooded the comment session with mockeries such as “sure, foreign countries do not need testing right?”
One popular Weibo comment suggested that the supporters of China ending its Covid restrictions should “bring their A4” [referring to the blank paper protests] to travel overseas.

In China’s current online media discourse surrounding the travel restrictions for Chinese travelers, there is not much reflection from authors on China’s own stringent measures over the past three years and the difficulties experienced by Chinese citizens to exit and enter mainland borders.

A few Weibo commenters, however, do remind others of China’s very recent zero Covid past, including the strict and sometimes complex entry requirements with green codes letter of commitment, recovery documents for those who had Covid, CT scans, and (14+7) quarantine.

On other social media platforms, there are also more discussions which do not necessarily echo mainstream media narratives.

Underneath an article by CCTV News titled “Hypocritical! Some Countries Argued China Should Open Up, Yet Now Restrict Chinese from Coming In” (“虚伪!某些嚷嚷着要中国“放开”的国家,现在却限制起中国人来了”), one comment suggested that “it is not always viable to criticize others; we should self-reflect to progress.” A screenshot of the comment sections shared on Zhihu showed that more voices demanded self-reflection, but that the comment section had been censored.

An Eye for an Eye: China Halts Travel Visas for South Korea & Japan

On January 10th, the two top trending topics on Weibo both related to Chinese authorities suspending short-term visa issuance for visitors from Japan and South Korea. The measure was announced by the Chinese embassies in both countries on Tuesday.

During a regular press conference on Tuesday, China’s Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin (汪文斌) responded to a question about the suspension of visas, saying: “It is really regrettable that a few countries ignore scientific facts and their own actual epidemic situation, yet insist on implementing discriminatory entry restrictions against China, something which China resolutely opposes and we will [therefore] take reciprocal measures.”

On Weibo, a hashtag related to the press conference also became top trending (#外交部回应暂停签发韩公民赴华短期签证#) and many applauded the measures. One blogger noted: “We welcome every good friend, but we will not show lenience for those who are not good friends.”

The online discussions of the recent news developments also led to many posts containing anti-Korean and anti-Japanese sentiments.

Meanwhile, Thailand has been highlighted in these discussions for the way in which the country has truly welcomed Chinese tourists. Not only did Thai authorities not require any Covid tests or vaccination proof, Cabinet ministers even came to Bangkok’s airport to personally welcome Chinese tourists with flowers and gifts.

A banner warmly welcoming Chinese visitors to Thailand.

“The most welcoming country for us is Thailand,” one blogger wrote, with one Weibo user from Jilin replying: “Why would we want to go to South Korea or Japan at all? To buy things so that we can boost their economy? They’re not worth it.”

By Zilan Qian and Manya Koetse


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  1. Avatar

    SM AM

    January 14, 2023 at 3:50 am

    To my knowledge all tourist visa holders and even a few higher classes of visa holders are still indefinitely banned from entering China.

  2. Avatar

    harry lee

    January 25, 2023 at 9:51 am

    a ban is different from inhumane treatment. Chinese border controls applied to everyone, even their own citizens. the healthcare authorities in UK, Australia and eu (in the case of Italy) all advised against implementing discriminatory measures because such measures are useless. initially, Australia and uk didn’t have requirements for Chinese travelers. they changed their minds last minute. covid testing is absurdly expensive in south korea.

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China and Covid19

Sick Kids, Worried Parents, Overcrowded Hospitals: China’s Peak Flu Season on the Way

“Besides Mycoplasma infections, cases include influenza, Covid-19, Norovirus, and Adenovirus. Heading straight to the hospital could mean entering a cesspool of viruses.”

Manya Koetse



In the early morning of November 21, parents are already queuing up at Xi’an Children’s Hospital with their sons and daughters. It’s not even the line for a doctor’s appointment, but rather for the removal of IV needles.

The scene was captured in a recent video, only one among many videos and images that have been making their rounds on Chinese social media these days (#凌晨的儿童医院拔针也要排队#).

One photo shows a bulletin board at a local hospital warning parents that over 700 patients are waiting in line, estimating a waiting time of more than 13 hours to see a doctor.

Another image shows children doing their homework while hooked up on an IV.

Recent discussions on Chinese social media platforms have highlighted a notable surge in flu cases. The ongoing flu season is particularly impacting children, with multiple viruses concurrently circulating and contributing to a high incidence of respiratory infections.

Among the prevalent respiratory infections affecting children are Mycoplasma pneumoniae infections, influenza, and Adenovirus infection.

The spike in flu cases has resulted in overcrowded children’s hospitals in Beijing and other Chinese cities. Parents sometimes have to wait in line for hours to get an appointment or pick up medication.

According to one reporter at Haibao News (海报新闻), there were so many patients at the Children’s Hospital of Capital Institute of Pediatrics (首都儿科研究所) on November 21st that the outpatient desk stopped accepting new patients by the afternoon. Meanwhile, 628 people were waiting in line to see a doctor at the emergency department.

Reflecting on the past few years, the current flu season marks China’s first ‘normal’ flu peak season since the outbreak of Covid-19 in late 2019 / early 2020 and the end of its stringent zero-Covid policies in December 2022. Compared to many other countries, wearing masks was also commonplace for much longer following the relaxation of Covid policies.

Hu Xijin, the well-known political commentator, noted on Weibo that this year’s flu season seems to be far worse than that of the years before. He also shared that his own granddaughter was suffering from a 40 degrees fever.

“We’re all running a fever in our home. But I didn’t dare to go to the hospital today, although I want my child to go to the hospital tomorrow. I heard waiting times are up to five hours now,” one Weibo user wrote.

“Half of the kids in my child’s class are sick now. The hospital is overflowing with people,” another person commented.

One mother described how her 7-year-old child had been running a fever for eight days already. Seeking medical attention on the first day, the initial diagnosis was a cold. As the fever persisted, daily visits to the hospital ensued, involving multiple hours for IV fluid administration.

While this account stems from a single Weibo post within a fever-advice community, it highlights a broader trend: many parents swiftly resort to hospital visits at the first signs of flu or fever. Several factors contribute to this, including a lack of General Practitioners in China, making hospitals the primary choice for medical consultations also in non-urgent cases.

There is also a strong belief in the efficacy of IV infusion therapy, whether fluid-based or containing medication, as the quickest path to recovery. Multiple factors contribute to the widespread and sometimes irrational use of IV infusions in China. Some clinics are profit-driven and see IV infusions as a way to make more money. Widespread expectations among Chinese patients that IV infusions will make them feel better also play a role, along with some physicians’ lacking knowledge of IV therapy or their uncertainty to distinguish bacterial from viral infections (read more here)

To prevent an overwhelming influx of patients to hospitals, Chinese state media, citing specialists, advise parents to seek medical attention at the hospital only for sick infants under three months old displaying clear signs of fever (with or without cough). For older children, it is recommended to consult a doctor if a high fever persists for 3 to 5 days or if there is a deterioration in respiratory symptoms. Children dealing with fever and (mild) respiratory symptoms can otherwise recover at home.

One Weibo blogger (@奶霸知道) warned parents that taking their child straight to the hospital on the first day of them getting sick could actually be a bad idea. They write:

“(..) pediatric departments are already packed with patients, and it’s not just Mycoplasma infections anymore. Cases include influenza, Covid-19, Norovirus, and Adenovirus. And then, of course, those with bad luck are cross-infected with multiple viruses at the same time, leading to endless cycles. Therefore, if your child experiences mild coughing or a slight fever, consider observing at home first. Heading straight to the hospital could mean entering a cesspool of viruses.”

The hashtag for “fever” saw over 350 million clicks on Weibo within one day on November 22.

Meanwhile, there are also other ongoing discussions on Weibo surrounding the current flu season. One topic revolves around whether children should continue doing their homework while receiving IV fluids in the hospital. Some hospitals have designated special desks and study areas for children.

Although some commenters commend the hospitals for being so considerate, others also remind the parents not to pressure their kids too much and to let them rest when they are not feeling well.

By Manya Koetse, with contributions from Miranda Barnes

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China and Covid19

Repurposing China’s Abandoned Nucleic Acid Booths: 10 Innovative Transformations

Abandoned nucleic acid booths are getting a second life through these new initiatives.

Manya Koetse



During the pandemic, nucleic acid testing booths in Chinese cities were primarily focused on maintaining physical distance. Now, empty booths are being repurposed to bring people together, serving as new spaces to serve the community and promote social engagement.

Just months ago, nucleic acid testing booths were the most lively spots of some Chinese cities. During the 2022 Shanghai summer, for example, there were massive queues in front of the city’s nucleic acid booths, as people needed a negative PCR test no older than 72 hours for accessing public transport, going to work, or visiting markets and malls.

The word ‘hésuān tíng‘ (核酸亭), nucleic acid booth (also:核酸采样小屋), became a part of China’s pandemic lexicon, just like hésuān dìtú (核酸地图), the nucleic acid test map lauched in May 2022 that would show where you can get a nucleic test.

Example of nucleic acid test map.

During Halloween parties in Shanghai in 2022, some people even came dressed up as nucleic test booths – although local authorities could not appreciate the creative costume.

Halloween 2022: dressed up as nucliec acid booths. Via @manyapan twitter.

In December 2022, along with the announced changed rules in China’s ‘zero Covid’ approach, nucleic acid booths were suddenly left dismantled and empty.

With many cities spending millions to set up these booths in central locations, the question soon arose: what should they do with the abandoned booths?

This question also relates to who actually owns them, since the ownership is mixed. Some booths were purchased by authorities, others were bought by companies, and there are also local communities owning their own testing booths. Depending on the contracts and legal implications, not all booths are able to get a new function or be removed yet (Worker’s Daily).

In Tianjin, a total of 266 nucleic acid booths located in Jinghai District were listed for public acquisition earlier this month, and they were acquired for 4.78 million yuan (US$683.300) by a local food and beverage company which will transform the booths into convenience service points, selling snacks or providing other services.

Tianjin is not the only city where old nucleic acid testing booths are being repurposed. While some booths have been discarded, some companies and/or local governments – in cooperation with local communities – have demonstrated creativity by transforming the booths into new landmarks. Since the start of 2023, different cities and districts across China have already begun to repurpose testing booths. Here, we will explore ten different way in which China’s abandoned nucleic test booths get a second chance at a meaningful existence.


1: Pharmacy/Medical Booths

Via ‘copyquan’ republished on Sohu.

Blogger ‘copyquan’ recently explored various ways in which abandoned PCR testing points are being repurposed.

One way in which they are used is as small pharmacies or as medical service points for local residents (居民医疗点). Alleviating the strain on hospitals and pharmacies, this was one of the earliest ways in which the booths were repurposed back in December of 2022 and January of 2023.

Chongqing, Tianjin, and Suzhou were among earlier cities where some testing booths were transformed into convenient medical facilities.


2: Market Stalls

Market stalls instead of nucliec acid testing booths. Image via Sina.

In Suzhou, Jiangsu province, the local government transformed vacant nucleic acid booths into market stalls for the Spring Festival in January 2022, offering them free of charge to businesses to sell local products, snacks, and traditional New Year goods.

The idea was not just meant as a way for small businesses to conveniently sell to local residents, it was also meant as a way to attract more shoppers and promote other businesses in the neighborhood.


3: Community Service Center

Small grid community center in Shizhuang Village, image via Sohu.

Some residential areas have transformed their local nucleic acid testing booths into community service centers, offering all kinds of convenient services to neighborhood residents.

These little station are called wǎnggé yìzhàn (网格驿站) or “grid service stations,” and they can serve as small community centers where residents can get various kinds of care and support.


4: “Refuel” Stations

In February of this year, 100 idle nucleic acid sampling booths were transformed into so-called “Rider Refuel Stations” (骑士加油站) in Zhejiang’s Pinghu. Although it initially sounds like a place where delivery riders can fill up their fuel tanks, it is actually meant as a place where they themselves can recharge.

Delivery riders and other outdoor workers can come to the ‘refuel’ station to drink some water or tea, warm their hands, warm up some food and take a quick nap.


5: Free Libraries

image via sohu.

In various Chinese cities, abandoned nucleic acid booths have been transformed into little free libraries where people can grab some books to read, donate or return other books, and sit down for some reading.

Changzhou is one of the places where you’ll find such “drifting bookstores” (漂流书屋) (see video), but similar initiatives have also been launched in other places, including Suzhou.


6: Study Space

Photos via Copyquan’s article on Sohu.

Another innovative way in which old testing points are being repurposed is by turning them into places where students can sit together to study. The so-called “Let’s Study Space” (一间习吧), fully airconditioned, are opened from 8 in the morning until 22:00 at night.

Students – or any citizens who would like a nice place to study – can make online reservations with their ID cards and scan a QR code to enter the study rooms.

There are currently ten study booths in Anji, and the popular project is an initiative by the Anji County Library in Zhejiang (see video).


7: Beer Kiosk

Hoegaarden beer shop, image via Creative Adquan.

Changing an old nucleic acid testing booth into a beer bar is a marketing initiative by the Shanghai McCann ad agency for the Belgium beer brand Hoegaarden.

The idea behind the bar is to celebrate a new spring after the pandemic. The ad agency has revamped a total of six formr nucleic acid booths into small Hoegaarden ‘beer gardens.’


8: Police Box

In Taizhou City, Jiangsu Province, authorities have repurposed old testing booths and transformed them into ‘police boxes’ (警务岗亭) to enhance security and improve the visibility of city police among the public.

Currently, a total of eight vacant nucleic acid booths have been renovated into modern police stations, serving as key points for police presence and interaction with the community.


9: Lottery Ticket Booths

Image via The Paper

Some nucleic acid booths have now been turned into small shops selling lottery tickets for the China Welfare Lottery. One such place turning the kiosks into lottery shops is Songjiang in Shanghai.

Using the booths like this is a win-win situation: they are placed in central locations so it is more convenient for locals to get their lottery tickets, and on the other hand, the sales also help the community, as the profits are used for welfare projects, including care for the elderly.


10: Mini Fire Stations

Micro fire stations, images via ZjNews.

Some communities decided that it would be useful to repurpose the testing points and turn them into mini fire kiosks, just allowing enough space for the necessary equipment to quickly respond to fire emergencies.

Want to read more about the end of ‘zero Covid’ in China? Check our other articles here.

By Manya Koetse,

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