Armed with selfie sticks and freshly cured of Covid, Chinese tourists wander the streets of Dali, a backpacker’s paradise, to party and cast aside the stress of the past three years.
As the Lunar New Year approaches on Sunday, China is experiencing a boom in domestic travel.
Last month, the government abruptly abandoned its so-called “zero Covid” strategy. And the vestiges of the draconian health policy lie, here and there, like relics of a bygone past.
“I feel so free,” exclaims Hu, who traveled from Beijing to Dali, while visiting the mountain town, located in Yunnan Province, southwest China.
“I was walking down the street of bars when I heard someone singing a song that I really like (…) I feel like everyone is so happy,” she said. to AFP last weekend.
Barely two months ago, traveling involved navigating a maze of restrictions, as onerous as they were complicated, and complying with the multiple anti-Covid screenings required.
But today, booths dedicated to PCR tests lie abandoned on the sidewalks of major cities, some covered in a layer of disinfectant residue, others taken over by stray cats.
In the first weeks after the last restrictions were lifted, millions of people were infected with Covid, overwhelming hospitals and crematoriums. But the recent slowdown in infections now makes it possible to slack off and enjoy it.
In Dali’s old town, watering holes and street food stalls are crowded, the sound of firecrackers piercing the night as people celebrate the Kitchen God Festival.
Zhou Hua, a tourist from Chengdu visiting with his family, said he came to “clean his lungs” with mountain air after recovering from Covid.
“We’ve been stuck at home for three years already, so we rushed here,” he told AFP.
Similar scenes unfold in Xishuangbanna prefecture, also in Yunnan province, renowned for its temples and tropical landscapes.
A line of visitors jostles for entry to a crowded night market, while a cacophony of pop songs echoes from bars across the Lancang River, as the upper Mekong is known here.
Women copiously made up and dressed in outfits inspired by traditional costumes stand on the banks, where photographers take pictures.
Signs reading “full” hang from hotels in the main tourist district, and customers wait up to an hour for a table at popular restaurants.
– Lunar New Year –
The prospect of the Lunar New Year, the holy weekend and the three holidays that follow, only increases the rush of travelers to the countryside.
Transport authorities are forecasting more than two billion journeys over a 40-day period between January and February, almost double last year and 70% of the pre-pandemic level.
Chinese President Xi Jinping said on Wednesday that he was “concerned” about the risk of contamination of rural areas by Chinese from cities.
In Yunnan, many residents with whom AFP spoke minimize these fears, while the “zero-covirus” equipment has disappeared.
Along the border with Burma, many checkpoints used until recently to test drivers and goods are abandoned, AFP journalists found last week.
Near Cangyuan County, also in Yunnan, dusty road barriers are stacked under a corrugated iron roof, next to deserted offices.
On the floor, a sign offering free PCR tests. In an empty office, two forgotten disinfecting machines.
“Obey pandemic orders,” still proclaim large signs at another checkpoint. “Prevention is our responsibility.”