Alice Chu hasn’t seen her father since her last trip to China in 2019, and has yet to introduce her 6-month-old son to his grandfather.
But a recent announcement brought her some hope of soon having a family reunion in the Henan Province town where she grew up.
“We have been waiting for [China] to drop the quarantine policies,” explained Chu, who manages a theater in San Francisco’s Chinatown. “Now it’s much more convenient for us to travel back.”
Many Chinese American immigrants like Chu have been celebrating on social media after learning that China will eliminate mandatory quarantine and other restrictions that made travel so difficult for so long. Come Jan. 8, international travelers will only need to show their negative Covid test results within 48 hours to enter the country.
“Finally, China is about to fully reopen!” Chu posted on WeChat.
China implemented some of the world’s strictest pandemic controls in response to Covid. For a time, the country required a monthlong quarantine as well as hotel confinement or self-isolation at home for international travelers—even those with Chinese passports.
For years, tough policies combined with expensive plane tickets have made it extremely difficult for Chinese American immigrants to visit relatives in their homeland.
Ed Siu, a travel agent based in Chinatown, said that during the past three years, some Chinese Americans would only travel to China in exigent circumstances like, for example, if a family member was dealing with a medical emergency or urgent legal matter.
“During the pandemic, you don’t want to travel back unless you really need to,” Siu explained.
But even with China loosening up the border, Siu expected it might take more time for air travel between the two countries to resume its pre-pandemic pace. He said he has yet to hear back from several major airlines about any plans to boost flights in the wake of China’s announcement. Only United Airlines offers direct flights between San Francisco and Shanghai, he added, with a one-way ticket costing over $2,000.
China’s Covid Outbreaks
Since China lifted its so-called zero-Covid policy, infections soared and reportedly overwhelmed health-care systems.
Dr. Jian Zhang, the CEO of Chinese Hospital in San Francisco, said people considering traveling to China should be extra cautious.
Zhang—who frequently traveled between the U.S. and China before the pandemic—said she understands that many Chinese Americans may want to go back to their homeland to celebrate Lunar New Year in late January. But she noted that China is still dealing with Covid outbreaks and the risk of infection has increased.
“People with underlying health conditions, especially vulnerable seniors, can wait a little more time,” Zhang said.
She urged those with international travel plans to “take the vaccines first.”
But some people say they can’t wait any longer.
Tom Nie, a longtime Bay Area resident and a former leader at the United Chinese Alumni Association, is eyeing a March return.
A native of Hunan Province, Nie said he still has many family members there and wanted to travel back more often and to help the community and improve its environment, too.
“I used to go back to China twice a year,” Nie said. “And after three years, the good news finally arrived.”