Beijing is opening up to the world again after China has spent over half a year combating COVID-19, with occasional resurgences in some cities. The capital city announced on Wednesday plans to resume direct international flights, starting from Thursday, which signals that locally transmitted cases have been fully contained, leading medical experts commented.
After a break since late March, Beijing airports will again welcome passengers from abroad who will fly directly into the city. The first batch of international flights will connect the capital city with eight countries on three continents including four European countries, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) said on Wednesday.
Flights connecting Thailand, Cambodia and Pakistan in Asia, as well as Greece, Denmark, Austria and Sweden in Europe, and Canada in North America - nations with relatively small numbers of imported cases - will resume. The first direct international flight to Beijing will depart from Phnom Penh, capital of Cambodia, on Thursday operated by Air China.
"Resuming direct international flight signals that China has gotten domestic COVID-19 outbreaks under control. Though there have been small-scale resurgences, they all have been quickly contained and eradicated," Zeng Guang, former chief epidemiologist of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told the Global Times on Wednesday.
Since March 23, all international flights bound for Beijing have been rerouted to other Chinese cities in a bid to prevent imported novel coronavirus cases.
The latest outbreak of COVID-19 cases in the capital city ended on July 20. Beijing had reported no new case for 26 consecutive days as of Wednesday, according to local health authorities.
It does not mean, however, that Beijing — or other cities in the country — could relax their prevention and control measures, as China has been seeing growing numbers of imported cases in recent months, according to some experts.
With the experience of dealing with resurgent outbreaks in cities like Beijing and Dalian of Northeast China's Liaoning Province, China is increasingly capable of handling imported cases, and COVID-19 prevention and control has become a regular task, Zeng noted.
With Beijing welcoming passengers from overseas, all people entering the country would undergo 14-day collective quarantine periods for medical observation and take nucleic acid tests twice, Beijing health authority spokesman Gao Xiaojun told a press conference on Wednesday. To improve screening and treatment, Ditan Hospital in Beijing will be a designated place for treatment at the early stage of resumption of direct international flights.
In order to control the cross-border spread of the global pandemic, the CAAC said that it would impose stricter anti-COVID-19 prevention measures based on an existing "circuit breaker" mechanism.
The regulator stressed that if three or more confirmed cases are found on an international flight into Beijing, the flight will be re-directed to another Chinese city. During trial operations, direct international flights to Beijing will have a passenger cap of around 500 each day.
Resuming direct international flights means a lot for Beijing as the central government recently approved a new urban plan with an emphasis on the capital city's role as the country's international exchange hub. In the post-epidemic period, it's necessary to emerge from a complete city lockdown while using an effective prevention and control system, some experts said.
"If we want to become a metropolis with a certain role and influence in the world, we must restore international communication. The flight resumption also shows that Beijing is back on track," Sheng Guangyao, a research fellow at Institute for Urban and Environmental Studies of China Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, told the Global Times.
"We need to strike a balance between normalizing epidemic prevention and moving on," said Sheng.
Resumption of inbound international flights to Beijing has raised hopes for a potential recovery of international travel, according to leading travel agencies.
Some tourist agencies have been closely following the new international travel policy as the country has been quickly returning to normalcy in the post-epidemic period.
Xu Xiaolei, marketing manager at China's CYTS Tours Holding Co, told the Global Times on Wednesday that his company would re-launch outbound tourist products as soon as they are ready. "The first batch of products is highly likely to be to countries in Southeast Asia," Xu said.
Source: Global Times