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Sanya Covid lockdown: Escaping to ‘China’s Hawaii’ only to face fresh curbs

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Kyle Newton was hoping for a break in the resort of Sanya on Hainan island – known as “China’s Hawaii” – after enduring a harsh two-month Covid lockdown in Shanghai.

His Hainan trip was due to last less than a week and was the teacher’s first holiday in China since arriving just as the pandemic broke out. The island lies in the South China Sea just off China’s southern coast.

But on Saturday, after 263 positive cases were confirmed in Sanya, authorities cancelled all flights and trains out of the city.

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On Monday the lockdown was extended to cover several cities after 504 cases were recorded on the island.

The provincial capital Haikou – with a population of nearly three million – has been locked down and about seven million people have been told not to leave home except for food and Covid tests, state media said.

Smaller towns Wuzhishan, Ledong and Chengmai are also locked down.

Travellers must now present five negative PCR tests over seven days before they can leave – if they are able to book a flight out. About 80,000 tourists have been stranded in Sanya, according to the city’s deputy mayor. The vast majority are Chinese, including numerous people from Shanghai.

Mr Newton, from the UK, says he has had to queue for about two hours every morning to get a Covid test, which means he’s been forced to cancel work meetings.

The situation is “obviously disappointing”, he said, especially for those from Shanghai who had already suffered the extended restrictions there.

“Everyone else who also came from Shanghai are all in pretty low spirits,” he told the BBC.

While those whose flights were cancelled on Saturday were reportedly offered free hotel rooms, Mr Newton said the hotel only offered him a 50% discount on the room rate for extending his stay due to the lockdown.

“I’m ok, but there’s a lot of families here who haven’t been told what happens after they can’t afford it anymore, and why the hotel won’t also give them the same offer as the new guests,” he said.

Mr Newton said that information was scarce for foreigners unable to read Chinese, and he is not completely sure whether guests are allowed to leave the hotel.

“It’s a case of having to join WeChat groups full of other stranded foreigners, all trying to piece information together,” he said, referring to the popular Chinese app, which combines messaging, payments and social media.

“If there is official information, it hasn’t been relayed to foreigners by anyone.”

The view from Kyle Newton's room in Sanya

Image source, Kyle Newton

Brian Hall, a professor at New York University Shanghai, also said it was unclear how long guests would have to remain in their rooms. His room is booked until Wednesday, and there has been no confirmation of the arrangement after this, he said.

Dr Hall said it was his fourth period of confinement this year alone.

Just four days after Shanghai lifted its lockdown at the beginning of June, Dr Hall’s residential area was sealed again for another two weeks due to a suspected close contact case in a neighbouring compound.

When he was allowed out, he immediately travelled to Sanya, where he had to do 10 days of quarantine.

“My intention was to remain outside of Shanghai due to the ongoing lockdown and testing regime there,” he said.

A Covid testing site in Sanya

Dr Hall, a global mental health researcher, said that while lockdowns have demonstrated effectiveness in reducing the spread of the virus they also take a “significant toll” on mental health and wellbeing.

“I am concerned about how these lockdowns may affect people’s livelihoods, which have knock-on effects on their mental health, especially among those with precarious working conditions, migrants, and young adults,” he said.

Meanwhile, for residents such as Simon Vericel, the food supply remains “annoying but so far not impossible”.

Mr Vericel relocated his family from Beijing to Sanya in May to avoid Covid control measures in the capital, which were then comparatively stricter.

The Frenchman, who is a managing director for a PR firm, said they had been able to get food through delivery apps – but it can take more than 12 hours to arrive.

Still, Mr Vericel says he has suffered minimally compared to tourists.

“We have a place to stay indefinitely if needed,” he said. “We are in lockdown in our residence, but can roam in the yard.”

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