Lengthy isolation rules in China, fear of catching Covid could keep thousands of Chinese tourists away
Nearly half-a-million Chinese nationals have valid visitor visas to travel to New Zealand from May 1, but stringent isolation requirements in China and fear of catching Covid-19 are keeping many from rushing to buy plane tickets.
Of the roughly 570,000 people offshore who have valid visitor visas, 462,363 are Chinese, said Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment immigration policy manager Kirsty Hutchison.
Some visitor visas are valid for five years, which means they might have been issued before the pandemic but still be valid.
Pre-pandemic, China was New Zealand’s second-largest tourism market after Australia, and in 2019, spending by 390,000 Chinese visitors hit $1.7 billion.
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From 11:59pm on May 1, visitors from China who already hold a valid visitor visa can enter New Zealand and do not need to self-isolate or enter MIQ. But not everyone is keen to make their way to Aotearoa just yet.
Li Li, a Chinese immigrant living in Queenstown, said she was “thrilled” that the country’s border was reopening. Her last visit to China was in 2017 and her second child, who is now one year old, has not yet met her grandparents
But although Li’s parents both have valid New Zealand visitor visas, she would be making the trip to Wuhan in China to see them rather than the other way around.
“Travelling during the pandemic is a huge cost in time and money. I’d take my kids to China once the quarantine time shortens to two weeks,” she said.
“The current policy for overseas travellers to Wuhan means my parents will face a six-week isolation [when they arrive back in China].
“[That is] two weeks of hotel quarantine in the arrival city in China, another two weeks in a hotel in Wuhan, and then two more weeks of self-isolation at home.”
Chelsea Chen, a stay-at-home mum based in Auckland, said while her parents also hold valid visitor visas, she decided to postpone their trip to New Zealand due to the spread of Omicron in both New Zealand and China.
“We are going to wait and see. The direct flights from my hometown Chengdu to New Zealand have been cancelled since March 2020.
“[My parents] would need to transfer in big cities like Beijing and Shanghai. The risk of catching Covid-19 on their way would be high. I don’t want my parents to risk it,” Chen said.
Chen hasn’t seen her dad for over two years. Her parents visited her in January 2020, but her father had to return to China for work in March.
Chen’s mum stayed at her Auckland’s home till May last year to help out with her young children, but went back to China when Chen’s grandmother fell seriously ill.
Tourism town Hanmer Springs is suffering the economic effects of the Covid-19 lockdown. (Video first published May 10, 2020)
“My mum helped me a lot. It’s been pretty tough for me and my family since she went home,” said Chen.
“Because of the Omicron outbreak in New Zealand, especially in Auckland, I have had to keep my kids at home since they were born to avoid getting Covid-19.”
On March 16, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the latest dates for the phased reopening of New Zealand’s border.
“Visitor visa applications are currently set to open in October, but the Government has indicated this date may be brought forward,” Hutchison said.
New Zealand Chinese Travel and Tourism Association chair Simon Cheung said he did not expect big flocks of Chinese tourists coming to New Zealand in May or even October.
“For Chinese, New Zealand is now classed as ‘high risk’ due to Covid-19.
“There is a big Omicron outbreak in China, people are in quarantine and are not allowed to go overseas,” he said.
China has some of the strictest isolation requirements for overseas returnees, and there have been five flights from New Zealand to China each week since the pandemic hit.
Susan Hu, a Christchurch-based tour agent said she has recently received some enquiries about flight bookings between New Zealand and China, but doubted many Chinese tourists would make their way to New Zealand soon.
“[There are] high risks of getting infected, and long quarantines in China.
“Only those with families living in New Zealand are more likely to come,” said Hu.
China’s Covid-19 cases has hit a two-year high with over 1.16 million cases and more than 10,200 deaths recorded since the pandemic began.
Nearly 90 per cent of new infections occur in Jilin province, while millions of people across the country remain confined to their homes.
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