Zhou Jing, a 36-year-old business owner in China’s Hebei province, is relieved that Beijing has begun to unwind its harsh “zero-COVID” strategy.

After taking strict precautions to avoid COVID-19 for the past three years, Zhou finally tested positive for the virus earlier this month as cases surged nationwide.

Unlike millions of Chinese affected by the virus earlier in the pandemic, Zhou was able to recover at home instead of at a quarantine facility.

Earlier this month, Beijing announced it would “optimise” its COVID policies by allowing mild cases to quarantine at home, as well as limiting lockdowns, scrapping mass testing, and lifting curbs on domestic travel.

Zhou was glad to be able to face the illness surrounded by her loved ones, and she is happy to know she will not be restricted from doing everyday errands like going to the supermarket in the future.

Still, Zhou, who runs a small tour agency, is not likely to travel far beyond her home anytime soon.

For Zhou, international travel — something she did at least twice a year before 2020 — is off the table for the foreseeable future due to the risk of the virus, even if the borders are reopened in the coming weeks or months.

“I know you can get COVID-19 anywhere now, but at least here in China, I’ll be with my family,” Zhou told Al Jazeera. “Here, the current variant [Omicron] seems more stable. If I go abroad, I fear the virus may mutate.”

Zhou is not alone in being apprehensive.

In a survey of 4,000 Chinese consumers carried out by consultancy Oliver Wyman in late October, more than half of respondents said they plan to put off travel abroad, even if the borders reopen tomorrow, with fear of infection cited as the top concern. 

“People have become cautious,” Imke Wouters, a retail and consumer goods partner at the consultancy, told the Reuters news agency. “So even when they can travel, we don’t think they will come back right away.”

Such nervousness could pose a challenge to the international tourism market’s nascent recovery from the pandemic, which has been held back by China’s ongoing border closures. China’s population spent $288bn on international travel in 2018, nearly one-quarter of the global spending on tourism.

Other data suggests that Chinese may be eager to travel so long as the government lifts its myriad restrictions on moving in and out of the country.


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