Many people who live here in China love to travel, and whenever a significant chunk of time arrives, most like to hit the road. For the past year, international travel options have been off the table due to the pandemic, and, while this has put a damper on many people’s plans, for the most part we have still been able to travel within China, scratching a bit of that itch. But now that another holiday time has arrived, some people want to know if domestic travel is still an option, or is it something that will have to wait for later?
Currently, the situation in regard to COVID-19 can change at any moment. While many preventative measures are still in place, there is still a chance for local and imported cases to occur, which will heighten restrictive measures and will make moving around more difficult. There are currently six high-risk areas, mostly located in northeast China, and sixty-six medium-risk areas across the country. With the upcoming Chinese New Year Festival, there is a possibility of further spread, despite the measures put in place.
While in some areas it is possible to use a national version of the QR code system that we have in Xi’an, it is not entirely universal and many places, which means for each place that you attempt to travel to, you may be required to sign up for these local systems. In some cases, they require a Chinese National ID number and therefore will not be available to foreigners. There is a system that operates though Alipay which can be used by foreigners, but the acceptance of such guarantees may or may not work, depending on the area. Areas outside of major cities may be even more difficult to navigate, as the local towns and villages may have their own restrictions in place or may not recognize the QR codes used in the larger cities.
Foreigners often experience more difficulty with these regulations, as they are not designed to handle foreign passport information, etc. If you plan to travel to visit family or relatives in the countryside or in other provinces, it is probably preferable to call ahead and see what documentation or other requirements there may be to enter.
Recent reports in Shaanxi have stated that those wishing to travel across the provincial border into the countryside after January 28th will be placed in a 14-day quarantine at their destination, and may face an additional 14-day quarantine upon their return, each with at least two COVID tests during the quarantine. Whether that will be at home or at a designated hotel (at your own expense) has not been stated and will depend on the situation and from where the traveler is coming.
In anticipation of this news, some have planned to head back home early, both to avoid this requirement and to return home before the mass movement that typically precedes the Spring Festival holiday. Some local companies have warned their employees against going back home early, noting that those who defy the suggestion to stay at home and are unable to return may not receive their salary for the missing days of work, even if they continue to work online. Those who either can not or will not work due to these restrictions may be subject to termination for failing to return to work.
Starting today, a great majority of the students in the province will either be taking their classes online or having their classes cancelled entirely for the remainder of the semester, with the exception of students in key grades (graduating classes, etc.). As of this moment, the earliest point that in-person classes might reconvene is March 1st, though that will entirely depend on the situation at that time.
The Risk of Travel
There are several risks associated with attempting to travel during the Chinese New Year. First, your risk of being quarantined increase with each place that you would attempt to visit, even if you plan to visit a low-risk area. If the area is upgraded from low-risk to medium- or high-risk during your visit, you may be subject to a quarantine at the destination, and most likely another upon returning, even with a negative COVID test. Furthermore, many systems are designed for local people and foreigners who are registered in that city. If you are staying in a hotel, the hotel will register you, but if you are staying with friends or family, it is important to register yourself within 72 hours (as is the law anyways). Just remember that if you are placed under quarantine in a hotel, you still have to pay for the hotel room, which may cost you far more than expected. If you are staying with friends or family, you may be staying well past your welcome.
Second, the quality of your travel will most likely suffer as well, as restrictions that are put in place will most likely limit access to the places that you would like to visit on your trip. Already announcements have been made stating that various attractions across the country will be shutting their doors to help prevent the spread of the virus. In addition to this, the Spring Festival period usually coincides with the shuttering of local restaurants and businesses due to a great majority of the staff heading home for the holidays. Whether this will be the case this year is unknown, but as a national holiday, people are still entitled to the time off. So, even if you are able to travel to your destination, you may find that there isn’t much to do when you get there.
Conclusion: Travel Only If Necessary
Travel during Spring Festival is inconvenient at the best of times, and these are not the best of times. The chances of being held up, either at your destination or on your return are fairly high, and any expenses will be your own responsibility. Even if you do travel, the chance of having a trip full of fulfilling and fun activities is low. You are better off trying to find something to entertain yourself with in Xi’an.
The only possible exception might be for those who need to travel to visit family, especially those that may need assistance during the holidays when caregivers often are unavailable. Even this will need to be balanced with the risks of exposure along the way. Also, you should be prepared to spend a long time there, should quarantine come down.
Should you decide that travel is necessary, try to be as prepared as possible. Have a COVID test done before you travel and carry a physical copy when possible to avoid any trouble. Have photocopies of your passport page and most recent entry stamp ready to go. Be prepared for long waits and inconveniences along the way. Best of luck.
Most of the above currently applies to inter-provincial travel, and no areas in Shaanxi are at medium- or high-risk status at the moment, though there is no telling now what measures may be in place by the time Spring Festival arrives. Xi’an itself is a city much larger than many people realize, with many things new and old to explore. While there is no guarantee that these places will stay open during Chinese New Year, there are still plenty of places to explore. As long as you have a green QR code and carry your passport, you shouldn’t run into too much trouble.
What are you going to do during the Spring Festival holiday? How do you plan to pass the time? Let us know by commenting below. If you have any further questions that you would like answered, comments you would like to make, let us know by messaging us at our official account or by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org