The coastal resort town of Sanya was able to hold any large-scale COVID-19 outbreaks at bay for much of the pandemic. But it’s now China’s latest coronavirus hotspot, resulting in a snap lockdown and tens of thousands of tourists left stranded.
The city in the island province of Hainan has been in a “temporary static management” mode since Saturday, and has reported over 1,200 local infections between Aug. 1 and 7, local authorities said. Sanya also suspended public transport, ordered business closures, and sealed residential compounds to contain the outbreak which officials said was at a “rising stage.”
Around 80,000 visitors were said to be vacationing in the city when the lockdown was announced, with some 40% stuck in their hotels, He Shigang, the city’s deputy mayor, told state broadcaster China Central Television on Friday. Those leaving Sanya are required to have five negative PCR test results in seven days.
The abrupt lockdown caught many tourists off guard, who then had to rush to find ways out of the city. Viral videos on social media showed crowds of passengers stranded at the local airport Saturday after most flights were canceled.
A visitor who identified herself as Anqi told Sixth Tone that she was in Sanya with her husband for their honeymoon. She said the couple decided to cut short their holiday on Aug. 3 and tried to leave the city, but their flight was canceled 30 minutes before departure, and they ended up in a hotel assigned to them by local authorities.
“I never expected my romantic wedding tour to become an arduous escape,” she said. “All I hope is to get away a week later as planned.”
On Monday, an employee on Sanya Phoenix International Airport’s hotline told Sixth Tone that all flights to and from the city were canceled and they were unsure about when the flights would resume.
Authorities have meanwhile vowed to assist stranded tourists by clamping down on price hikes and have urged hotels to offer a 50% discount on accommodation.
“We understand the tourists’ inconvenience and ask for understanding and support,” Ye Kaizhong, the deputy secretary of Sanya’s municipal government, said in a press conference Sunday.
The outbreak came as many thousands of holidaymakers flocked to the resort city for the peak summer season, as they tried to escape restrictions in their hometowns. Authorities said the outbreak in Sanya has been triggered by the BA.5.1.3 Omicron subvariant, the first time it has been detected in China.
While the city saw a robust growth in tourism in July, experts told domestic media the blanket closure has marked an end to the boom. It would cast adverse effects on tens of thousands of business owners and would likely require a long recovery period.
“This is the worst outbreak, and it’s a disaster to all the local hotels,” a Sanya resident surnamed Chen told Sixth Tone. “But we have to be cooperative and hopefully we can make it through.”
Additional reporting: Cathy Li; editor: Bibek Bhandari.
(Header image: A volunteer keeps order at a COVID-19 test site in Sanya, Hainan province, Aug. 7, 2022. VCG)