The Impact of China’s “Five One” Policy: An Experience of International Flight Under Global Pandemic

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The capital, Beijing, has banned any inbound flights to land in the city’s airport in order to mitigate the risk of a second coronavirus wave brought by inbounding passengers.

Airline companies suffered severely under the global pandemic. Yet the additional travel restrictions implemented by the Chinese government greatly inhibited how airline companies were able to operate – and has transposed beyond the lockdown period. 

95% of air passenger traffic has declined, causing severe loss to the aviation industry.

The shock to international tourism industry is estimated to be in the range of 60-80% in 2020.

On March 29th, the Chinese government implemented the “Five One” policy, forcing all airlines, no matter wether Chinese or foreign, to keep only one flight per week to travel to and out of China.

Additionally the policy demanded that any individual whose destination was within the country or from abroad must be quarantined for two weeks at designated hotels near the first entry city.

 

Impact of the Policy

Foreigners are suspended from entering the country, even if they hold valid visa/residence permit/APEC business travel card, following an announcement on March 26th.

Chinese international students represent now one of the largest proportions of passengers traveling back to China. Effectively, prior to the “Five one” policy, more than half of the incoming passenger were returning overseas Chinese students, according to caixin news.

In 2018, around 662,100 Chinese students studied abroad and the the number is only increasing, as China is the largest country of origin for international students in the world.

The US and UK are the most popular destinations for Chinese students to study abroad, accounting for over 80% of all overseas Chinese students.

The strict travel policies left many Chinese students trapped overseas facing the expiry of their visa and housing contracts.

With the escalating US-China tensions, worldwide virus lockdowns and global economic downturn the “Five One” policy added more fuel to the already fiercely burning fire.

The Trump administration responded, on June 3rd, with a even rougher directive; suspending all Chinese carriers to and from the US. 

The Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian made the following remarks on June 4th.

“The CAAC and the US Department of Transportation have been in close communication regarding fights between the two countries. We have had some progress. Now China has announced the policy adjustment. We hope the US will not create obstacles for resolving this issue.”

Although both sides have started negotiating and easing up the policies, the situation of the many overseas Chinese remain unclear.

 

An International Travel Experience

My home is Beijing. However, all international flights have to be redirected to other cities adhering to the “Five One” policy.

The flight I took was undertaken by China Southern Airlines (HK: $1055), traveling from London to Guangzhou on June 5th. With over 400 seats in the plane, almost all the seats were occupied.

As expected, the tickets were very hard to book. Within 5 minutes after publication, all seats in economy-class were sold out with an average price tag around US$5000..

14 days before boarding all passengers were required to download a mini program on WeChat which would record the daily temperature and covered the tracks of passengers.

It was easy, almost obvious, to sense the tense atmosphere through out the long red-eye flight. The crew was also significantly understaffed. 

After landing – it took at least 6 hours to deal with a single flight. There was series of tedious handling procedures along with Covid-19 test of every passenger.

The passengers were closely monitored and carefully escorted to designated hotels for their 14 day mandatory quarantine, whereafter the plane and the special arrival halls were completely sterilised. 

All the crew members needed to quarantine after each flight, as well, which significantly limited the staff capacity of the airline companies.

As a result, there are only around 20 international flights per day landing on Chinese territory.

The tedious and costly handling procedures explain the reasoning behind the “Five One” policy. 

It is too costly and too comprehensive to make sure all passengers come out of customs without carrying the risk of infecting others with the highly contagious virus.

 

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With the domestic situation turns bright, China cannot afford the risk for the second wave of pandemic from overseas.

Meanwhile in China, the inbounding passengers may do a good business for hotels, as travellers need to pay the fee for 14 days of quarantine.

In a situation when the hospitality industry is decimated, the enforcing the “Five One” policy brings more consumers to the hotels and alleviates the bleeding bottom-lines.

In the hotel where I stayed, almost all the rooms were occupied.

The price for each room was around 52$ per night with breakfast included, a common off-season price for most of the hotels in Guangzhou.

Nevertheless, these hotels faced a higher costs with necessary additional costs of protection gear and disinfection equipment.

Receptionists and cleaners have to be “armed” from head to toes, with goggles and protective clothing.

Medical staff came to each room twice a day to take the guests’ temperature. Once the passengers are checked in, they are not allowed to step outside the room for the entire quarantine period. 

With the international pressure and desperate situation the airline and hospitality industries it is unlikely that the “Five One” policy can last to October as it is planned.

However, with the current resurge in infection rates the the capital itself, many may fear another lockdown.

 

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Yibu Jin

Junior Researcher

Yibu is a second year student doing Economics at Durham University. During her first year, she had an internship in an accounting firm based in Beijing, China. Working with a professional team, she assisted an IPO audit project of a firm with a market value of 100 million dollars. She has professional working proficiency in both Mandarin and Japanese language, with a strong interest in Asia-Pacific Economics. In her spare time, Yibu enjoys playing the piano and chess. She is also motivated by reading and writing literature and screenplays.

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