‘You’re not safe anywhere’: Travel woes undermine China’s rebound

Fiona Wang is ready for a relaxing week of palm fronds, golden sands and swimming pools at Atlantis Sanya, a tropical resort on Hainan Island in southern China.

Instead, the mother-of-three from Beijing has found herself trapped in a hotel for the past two weeks as her 13-month-old baby ran out of formula and petitioned the local government to arrange a flight out of Hainan.

Wang is one of 150,000 holidaymakers Stranded this month On the island dubbed “China’s Hawaii,” it was the latest in a series of relentless partial lockdowns and mass testing under President Xi Jinping’s controversial zero-coronavirus policy.

“We have such a big family here,” she said. “We’re very anxious and worried that we won’t be able to go home.”

Analysts said the lockdown in Hainan highlighted the risks of travel in China, damaged confidence in the world’s largest consumer market and fueled doubts that Beijing hopes for an early rebound in an economy slowed by the pandemic.

“Hainan is sending a signal that you are not safe anywhere,” said Alicia Garcia-Herrero, chief Asia-Pacific economist at Natixis.

“This happens when I go to IKEA in Shanghai, to Hainan, to the office,” said García-Herrero, referring to the chaotic scene during the recent sudden closure of a home furnishing retailer’s store in Shanghai.

Any further blow to domestic liquidity and discretionary spending China It will be a headache for Beijing’s economic planners.

Xi’s government has relied on the services sector to help it achieve its 2022 GDP growth target of 5.5 percent, even as a massive lockdown in Shanghai and other big cities this year has pushed the economy to the brink of recession.

but Official Statistics for July It showed retail sales, an important measure of consumption, rose just 2.7% year-on-year, below expectations for a 5% increase.

Raymond Yeung, chief economist for Greater China at Australian bank ANZ, warned that the Hainan incident would further dent consumer confidence and could derail Beijing’s plans to stifle demand to spur growth.

“Right now, even if you ask people to go, they don’t have an appetite to go anywhere. . . it’s becoming a demand-side issue,” Yeung said.

The outbreak in Hainan brought China’s national total of Covid-19 infections to more than 3,400 on Thursday — the highest level in three months but well below levels seen in many countries that have lifted most pandemic restrictions.

Others take a different view.

Zhu Fang, an analyst at Fitch in Beijing, said that while the outbreak in Hainan may affect people’s willingness to travel long distances in the short term, she expects “a quick recovery of sentiment once the situation stabilizes” and “short-term consumption.” – Transportation and local travel continue to grow”.

Hainan’s lockdown has also exposed public dissatisfaction and a sense of hopelessness with the government as the zero coronavirus policy shows no sign of ending.

Huang Tianlei, a researcher at the Peterson Institute for International Economics think tank, noted that the lockdown has affected more than 1 million residents and said the zero-coronavirus policy was being “clumsily implemented.”

In one example, Jenna Lively, an American resident living in Beijing, was one of many who unsuccessfully tried to escape the island before the internet shut down.

She said two days after arriving, she was told her accommodation was “turning into a quarantine hotel”.

“When we started to realise it was getting worse, we changed our flight . . . However, on our way to the airport, the road was blocked. We were stuck on the highway, couldn’t get back to the hotel, couldn’t get to the airport. “Her team was later taken by police to another hotel, where they have been unable to leave.

In a fishing village in Deep Bay, a surfing instructor who asked to be identified as Xiaoyue said the lockdown had shocked locals who previously thought the epidemic was limited to China’s big cities.

“We were not prepared,” the 32-year-old said. “We didn’t stock up on groceries and the street markets suddenly closed.”

Although officials arranged for a designated grocery buying and pickup location within three days, Satsuki remained concerned that her 6-year-old daughter’s enrollment at a local elementary school would be delayed.

After small protests broke out in hotels on the island, the government sent Sun Chunlan, the vice-premier in charge of leading the Zero Epidemic Movement, to Hainan.

Any signs of social instability will be particularly worrying for Beijing in the coming months, as the ruling Chinese Communist Party prepares for a national congress where Xi is expected to receive Unprecedented third leader.

As she grew increasingly desperate, Beijing-based mother Wang took to social media.

Last week, she posted on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform, asking Beijing officials to charter flights for tourists stranded in Sanya, the province’s main coastal destination.

“We can’t just complain, we need to tell the government what we want,” she said. “At present, we can only rely on the government, and we cannot solve the problem by ourselves.”

Additional reporting by Emma Zhou in Beijing

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