When Will China Re-Open Air Travel? Probably Not For A Year

The Covid-19 virus is believed to have originated in Wuhan, China – whether through zoonotic transmission (jumping from animals to humans) or via an accidental lab leak (from Wuhan CDC or Institute of Virology studying Yunnan bat viruses).

China reacted swiftly with lockdowns to eradicate the virus and has committed itself to a ‘Covid Zero’ strategy after initially hiding the transmissibility of the virus (perhaps even local officials hiding it from senior government leaders) and underplaying its initial toll.

The strong response from the central government that followed the initial outbreak is a committed strategy of the country to demonstrate the superiority of its system. They’ve ignored civil liberties concerns, going so far as locking people into homes that ultimately became tombs, which have been defended by American financiers and hoteliers with significant ties to China.

President Xi Jinping seeks an unprecedented third term at the country’s 2022 party congress. It’s this upcoming solidification of his power that, in part, makes the nation cautious of missteps. It can’t risk a blunder like an invasion of Taiwan that goes badly. And it can’t risk losing face by losing control of Covid-19.

After all, China lacks significant background immunity to the virus due to low levels of prior infection and homegrown vaccines that didn’t work well even against ancestral strains of the virus.

So it’s not surprising that international flights to China remain down 95% compared to before the pandemic as they attempt to control entry of the virus.

On the one hand this seems unsustainable in the long term. They need updated vaccines before re-opening, at least without incurring huge risk in advance of Xi Jinping’s re-election late in the year. They’ll host a controlled Winter Olympics, which brings some risk, however. In the meantime remaining closed makes it easier to enforce ideological conformity.

Hong Kong, as part of its turn towards China, has clamped down tremendously as well. This allows the special administrative region to remain open as part of the country’s ‘Greater Bay Area’ but it’s meant absurd measures like ordering the eradication of pet hamsters. Though hamsters aren’t believed to be a significant vector of virus spread, the risk of even a single case leads to extreme actions. There are now abandoned hamsters on alley streets now that people can no longer keep them in their homes. (Spirit Airlines recommends flushing them.)

Sadly, it’s likely that when China does eventually re-open its borders, I won’t feel confident in returning.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Who in their right mind would want to fly to CHINA right now? You’d have to be braindead. Visiting China 2 years ago was bad enough, but NOW? Ugh.

  2. Corporate greed will prevail in the end.

    Already there are people being sent to China for work by their corporate bosses who own their soul. Just up the compensation for quarantines etc and you will find enough fools to go.

  3. I’ve been waiting almost 2 years (pre-Covid) to go to China to improve my Mandarin skills at intensive language school. I read a lot of the business news coming out of China, and the primary focus is on the future–making China self-sustaining and able to shut down (and shut out) the rest of the world. There are 5-, 7-, 20-, and 50- year plans that come close to if not on the mark, of isolationism. Covid is working well for many coutnries trying to achieve some form of isolatism, but for China, this is a whole ‘nother endgame.

  4. Political actions and rhetoric in China point toward continued nationalism. A recent state sponsored survey in China pointed to Canada being the most hated country in the world. Really? Covid is not the culprit when it comes to nationalism, it’s just a media ready reason that reinforces a pre-existing central policy. China will use the Olympics to boast to their citizens about the greatness of their country and how luck they are to have the CCP at the helm. I don’t expect the games to be symbolize a reopening to the west.

  5. I’m really happy that we had gotten our Chinese visa.

    Two trips, one of them to see the pandas in Chengdu.

    Hong Kong was cool, hit Beijing during golden week so air quality was astoundingly good (though crowds were massive at the tourist areas.

    I look forward to going back, hopefully before the visas expire.

  6. I just got back from 3 months in Europe. I’d be very hesitant to travel outside the US again until the covid test to reenter is lifted.

    A test does not seem like a big deal, until you test positive with no symptoms and keep doing so for weeks. Then what? I found out the hard way.

  7. I hope Gary is right. Because it means one year no tourists spending $$$ in China and no chicom spies stealing secrets around the world. Maybe they can double down and close for two years.

  8. Chinese don’t play.
    They are hard-core.
    They are taking all the money Wall Street threw at them and using it against us.
    Wall Street (Hedge Funds) sold us out. You’re worrying about critical race theory!!?? You will have a blast when Mandarin is required reading in our schools.
    Oh, and Wall Street/Hedge Funds?
    The Chinese will take all your money.
    See, they don’t believe in civil liberties.
    The Anti Christ is here.
    Take your pick…..

  9. Covid pandemic shows China/CCP don’t care it’s own people lives So no value for foreigners’ travelers’.
    I will never go to China period. You risk your life there just to help make
    the rich corrupted CCP officials richer.

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