Covid outbreak in Tibet leaves thousands of Chinese tourists stranded

Thousands of Chinese tourists have been left stranded in Tibet as authorities in the region struggle to contain a fresh Covid outbreak.

In recent months, at the same time as many cities went into lockdowns, Chinese tourists have flocked to scenic destinations such as the southern province of Hainan and the western region of Tibet.

However, cases have been rising in these destinations in recent weeks. In Hainan, known as “the Hawaii of China”, the surge has pushed China’s Covid cases this week to a three-month high. It is the country’s biggest increase in cases since Shanghai’s dramatic lockdown in the spring.

Earlier this month Tibet reported its first cases since 2020. Mass testing has been carried out in cities such as Lhasa and Shigatse. As of Thursday, the region had reported 216 confirmed cases and 3,479 asymptomatic cases.

Thousands of tourists have been barred this week either from sightseeing or returning home until they are confirmed to be clear of the disease, according to the Chinese publication Caixin. Quarantine rooms in areas across the provincial borders are also reportedly full.

As Tibet became a Covid hotspot, hundreds of vehicles were seen stuck on a highway this week after being denied entry to the neighbouring Yunnan province. On Tuesday, police in Tibet’s Markam county asked travellers to avoid leaving the region via a highway that goes to Yunnan and Sichuan provinces.

On the social media platform Weibo, a related hashtag about tourists being stranded has been viewed millions of times. One frustrated tourist on Thursday described the chaos and a lack of coordination in the area where she was staying.

“We really do not know what to do,” she wrote. “We, as tourists, do not know why we have been stranded. We really feel the physical and mental exhaustion, helplessness, and there is no way to ask for help.”

Another wrote on Wednesday: “From 8 August to the present, we have been calling the relevant personnel, who either did not answer the phone or told us that ‘there is no relevant policy for stranded passengers in medium- and high-risk areas’.”

Part of the reason for such a situation is the region’s lack of medical capacity and experience to test such large numbers of people, Chinese media said. Some people reported long queues at test sites, and others grumbled about having to wait for days for a test result.

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