Asian airlines cautiously welcome China’s reopening

SINGAPORE, 10 Jan 2023:

Asian airline companies have responded cautiously to Beijing reopening its borders amid a sudden rush of Chinese tourists booking flights to destinations like Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and Japan.

When Beijing announced it was lifting nearly all remaining pandemic restrictions and that it was ready to reopen its borders, the volume of airline tickets purchased from China rocketed – with saying foreign flight reservations increased by 254% in late December.

Of all the destinations, Singapore was ranked the highest, with flight bookings climbing by 600%, followed by South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan and Thailand, which recorded a 400% spike in bookings, according to the travel website.

Singapore has not imposed special checks on travellers arriving from China and has reported that, so far, the volume of visitors remains low and at almost 10% compared to pre-Covid19 levels, said health minister Ong Ye Kung.

Singapore Airlines (SIA), has reinstated its five weekly flights to Beijing, and the low-cost Scoot airline, a SIA subsidiary, is operating its weekly flights to seven cities in China.

“Airlines are following the situation in China closely,” noted Shukor Yusof, an aviation expert from Endau Analytics. “Nobody is rushing to increase flights until the demand and requirements are fully understood.”

Thailand lifted all its pandemic restrictions this month and only kept PCR tests for countries that continue to require them before departure, like China and India.

State-owned Thai Airways will reinstate its weekly Chengdu-Bangkok flight on Jan 19, and low-cost Thai AirAsia airline is looking to reopen over 13 routes that it covered across China.

Thailand relies heavily on Chinese tourism and authorities are expecting some 5 million visitors this year, said Yuthasak Supasorn, governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand.


Meanwhile, both South Korea and Japan have rolled out new rules for Chinese arrivals.

Passengers coming from China are now required to provide a negative Covid19 test before leaving the country and upon arrival in South Korea. Travellers who test positive for Covid19 have to observe a seven-day quarantine.

Seoul also said it would restrict short-term visas to Chinese residents until the end of January and has not increased the number of air routes between the two nations since China reopened its borders.

Japan’s prime minister Fumio Kishida has announced similar measures.

He has assured the government he will continue to ask airlines not to increase the number of direct flights between Japan and China after the deluge of infections that followed the dismantling of Beijing’s zero-Covid policy.

Beijing then stopped issuing visas to inbound visitors from South Korea and Japan in retaliation to new restrictions imposed by both countries on arrivals from China.

The Chinese embassy in Seoul announced the decision to not grant short-term visas for “Korean citizens visiting China, business, tourism, medical treatment, transit and general private affairs,” a statement read.

“The above measures will be adjusted depending on the cancellation of South Korea’s discriminatory entry restrictions on China.”


After almost three years of strict lockdowns and in the wake of China’s scrapping of Covid19 restrictions, all eyes are on the Asian giant to see how authorities and airlines deal with a very sudden revival in travel interest.

There are many unknowns, including how Chinese airports will cope with the return of large groups of travellers and whether they have the systems in place or the capacity to deal with a sudden surge in tourists.

Chinese news website Caixin reported aviation experts expect to see a “very optimistic” scenario with international flights to and from China returning to pre-pandemic levels by the summer.

But amid the unknowns is the possible emergence of a new Covid19 variant that could put the brakes on the reopening of the Chinese economy and whether the industry will be able to deal with an increased demand amid the ongoing war in Ukraine and the global energy crunch.

Meanwhile, World Health Organisation (WHO) said today the ongoing surge of Covid19 cases in China is unlikely to have a significant impact on Europe.

WHO Europe director Hans Kluge said coronavirus variants currently circulating in China “have already been seen in Europe and elsewhere,” but warned that to “better ascertain the evolving situation,” they will need to have detailed information from Beijing about the virus sequencing.

The latest remarks from the WHO concur with recent conclusions offered by the European Centre for Disease Control, which highlighted the high immunisation and vaccination levels among Europe’s population.

The regional director added that precautionary travel measures for inbound travellers from China were “not unreasonable,” but called for them to be “rooted in science, to be proportionate and non-discriminatory.”

A WHO committee will meet on Jan 27 to evaluate if the Covid19 pandemic should still be considered a global emergency.