Culture May 01

Beijingers rush at chance to get away as alert status lowered

Citizens no longer need to wear masks when outside; five-day break bids to revive hospitality, tourism and airline sectors; markets reopen May 6 

Beijingers rush at chance to get away as alert status lowered
Young people walk along a street with food stalls on either side at a night market in Guiyang city in southwest China's Guizhou province on Wednesday 29 April 2020. Photo: Zhui Ying / ImagineChina via AFP

(ATF) Beijing announced on Friday – May Day – that the city is now at alert status 2, down from level 1, the top alert status. This news was met with some enthusiasm as citizens are no longer obliged to wear masks when they go outside. 

As soon as the news came out, the demand for travel by people in the capital soared. According to data from Qunar website, within half an hour of the news being published, the volume of people searching for air tickets rose rapidly. The number of air ticket reservations from Beijing skyrocketed to 15 times the previous period, and the search volume for other travel from people wanting to go on vacations and stay in hotels tripled.

Within an hour of the news emerging, the trading volume for people flying in and out of Beijing increased by more than 500% over the same period on Thursday.

But with the increase in demand, the price of air tickets also began to rise. "I watched the ticket price from Beijing to Nanning rise from 300 yuan to more than 1,000 yuan," a distraught person told China News Service.

Experts from Qunar.com said there was still a large number of special discounted tickets for people hoping to fly out of Beijing, but prices were likely to rise sharply in the future. According to data on the platform, the prices to fly from Beijing to Hangzhou, Kunming, Chengdu, Chongqing, Shanghai and other popular cities were all around 500 yuan.

The Forbidden City, which just reopened, sold 5,000 tickets immediately via its Internet ticketing website (https://gugong.ktmtech.cn/). Reservations can be made up to 10 days in advance. But the Palace Museum, which was affected by the epidemic, was closed for three months.

Expanded into a Golden Week

This May Day holiday has been expanded into a ‘Golden Week’ break – a form of public holiday initiated under former president Hu Jintao to encourage the Chinese population to take holidays – and boost tourism at home and abroad. The current break is China's longest national holiday since 2008.

Previously, China’s middle class rarely took paid work holidays, and focused mostly on the Chinese New Year. But to boost the hospitality sector, tourism, airlines and related businesses the ‘Golden Week’ system was created to change cultural norms. Chinese tourists became a common sight across the world till the ‘Golden Week’ programme was slowly scaled back, until now.

The Shanghai and Shenzhen stock markets will be closed from tomorrow, Friday May 1, till Tuesday May 5. These markets will open as usual from Wednesday May 6. They will also be closed on Saturday week, May 9.

The Hong Kong Stock Exchange was closed today and will not open tomorrow (May 1).

For other companies and work units, there are complicated arrangements in which workers either work next weekend or this weekend – and add days to their break, depending on how each unit decides its arrangements.

90 million expected to travel

Chinese tourism, hospitality and airlines have been devastated by the coronavirus epidemic, but they will probably take great heart from the travel boom that appears to have started today. By launching this new long holiday, government analysts predicted around 90 million people would travel.

Beijing news reports have said that five-star hotels and resorts are highly sought after, especially those with sea or lake views. Airlines were offering discounted fares to enable travellers to fly from Beijing to Shanghai, or Shanghai to Shenzhen, for as little as 200 yuan. Those prices didn't last long however.

For sites such as the Forbidden City, this is a big day, the first time they will reopen since the lockdown.

Limits put on park visitors

But authorities in Beijing announced that parks will be limited to 30% capacity, and visitors will need to pre-book to get tickets.

Visitors to Beijing from "safe areas" will avoid the two-week quarantine which has been imposed on people wanting to get into the capital recently.

Shanghai authorities have said that most sites will be open but visitors must pre-book tickets. A total of 84 A-level tourist attractions have been opened in Shanghai, and nearly 5,200 hotels  are operating normally, but some sites such as the Oriental Pearl Tower and other well-known attractions, will not be open for the time being.

Mi Feng, spokesperson for the National Health and Health Commission and deputy director of the Propaganda Bureau, told the Youth Daily that experts are reminding citizens to travel safely – telling citizens think about protecting themselves from getting the virus (with masks and social distancing), avoiding crowded scenic spots and peak hours, and not getting into big groups or parties.

People who get a fever, fatigue, a dry cough or other symptoms of Covid-19 during their travel, have been told to go to the nearest medical facility immediately.