‘Free’ Chinese leave stress of Covid years behind

This photo taken on January 14, 2023 shows people posing for photos in Dali town, a township-level division in Dali City, in China’s northwest of Yunnan province. – Armed with selfie sticks and freshly recovered from Covid, Chinese tourists ambled through bar streets in the country’s southwest backpacker haven of Dali, partying the stress of the past three years into oblivion. (Photo by Noel CELIS / AFP) / To go with AFP story China-tourism-Dali-health-virus,SCENE by Jing Xuan TENG

DALI, China (AFP) — Armed with selfie sticks and freshly recovered from Covid, Chinese tourists ambled through bar streets in the country’s backpacker haven of Dali, partying the stress of the past three years into oblivion.

As Lunar New Year approaches, China is seeing a domestic travel boom after the government abruptly dismantled its longstanding zero-Covid strategy last month.

“I feel so free,” Hu, from Beijing, said while visiting Dali in southwestern Yunnan province.

“As I was walking down the bar street, I heard someone singing a song I really like… I feel like everyone is so happy,” she told AFP last weekend.
Just two months ago, traveling involved navigating a maze of onerous restrictions and multiple testing requirements.

But now shuttered PCR testing booths dot the sidewalks of major cities like relics of a bygone era, some covered in a crust of disinfectant residue and others broken into by street cats.

While the first weeks of reopening saw millions get Covid, overwhelming hospitals and crematoriums, a recent slowdown in infections now has allowed many to take advantage of the loosening up.

Watering holes and street food stalls in Dali’s bustling old town were packed when AFP visited, the sounds of firecrackers punctuating the night as people celebrated the Kitchen God festival.

Zhou Hua, a tourist from Chengdu visiting with his family, said he came to enjoy the mountain air and “clean out his lungs” after recovering from Covid.

“We’ve been stuck at home for three years already, so we rushed out here,” he said.

Similar scenes unfolded in Xishuangbanna prefecture, also in Yunnan province, famed for its temples and tropical landscape.

A line of visitors jostled to enter a crowded night market as a cacophony of pop songs blared from bars across the Lancang River, as the upper half of the Mekong is known in China.

Women in heavy makeup and outfits inspired by traditional dress stood on the banks as hired photographers snapped pictures.


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