Some 80,000 tourists vacationing on China’s Hainan island found themselves trapped in the tropical resort city of Sanya this weekend when authorities suddenly imposed a lockdown to stop a COVID-19 outbreak.
Known as “China’s Hawaii,” the popular destination for that nation’s growing number of middle- and upper-class families is now requiring visitors who want to leave to show five negative COVID-19 tests taken over seven days, CNN reported.
After the lockdown was announced Saturday, public transportation was shut down. More than 80% of the flights leaving Sanya were canceled, CNN said, citing Chinese state media reporting that some passengers were forced to deplane in what was described as chaos at the airport.
CNN said a video circulated on Chinese social media showed a government official protected by officers at the airport trying to calm a crowd of stranded travelers by promising free food and hotel accommodations, but they responded by chanting, “I want to go home! Go home! Go home!”
A report by Chinese media about a large family having to pay about $26,600, including more than $100 per person for buffet meals, to stay an extra week at their five-star hotel was viewed nearly 300 million times in China, CNN said, while some tourists took to social media themselves to complain about price gouging.
Concerns are being raised that if COVID-19 cases continue to rise, tourists may not be going home anytime soon under China’s zero-tolerance policy for the virus that resulted in lengthy lockdowns in Shanghai and other cities that include mass testing, contact tracing and quarantines.
According to Reuters news service, more areas of the island province in the South China Sea were locked down Monday after more than 1,400 COVID-19 cases were reported in the province so far this month compared to just two cases all of last year.
About 7 million residents in at least eight cities and towns on the island are under orders to remain at home except for what the government deems necessary, including grocery shopping and COVID-19 testing, Reuters reported Monday, noting state media says there are a total of around 178,000 tourists stuck on the island.
Sanya, like the rest of China, has been largely off limits to foreign visitors since the start of the pandemic, when the Chinese government implemented restrictions on tourists intended to keep the virus from spreading. CNN said the city was viewed by Chinese tourists as a safe destination because few cases had been reported there,
The current outbreak, fueled by a version of the omicron variant of COVID-19, is being blamed by authorities on foreign seafood dealers bringing the virus to a fishing port, according to CNN.