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Context: Rise in China’s travel, but some remain sceptical of country’s Covid data
Last month, China ended a requirement for incoming travellers to quarantine. This marked the end of the country’s strict “zero-Covid” policy.
During Lunar New Year, many people were able to travel to their hometowns in the mainland without the difficulty of quarantining or fear of sudden lockdowns.
Over the holiday, travel within China as well as in and out of the country rose sharply. Millions boarded planes, trains, buses and highways. Between January 7 and January 29, passenger trips reached 892 million, a transport ministry official told reporters.
For some countries that rely on tourism, the entry of many Chinese visitors is likely to help their economies. Others have imposed restrictions on travellers from China, such as demanding negative Covid-19 tests; they have called on Beijing to share more data with the world.
Between January 7 and January 29, passenger trips reached 892 million, a transport ministry official told reporters. Photo: Kyodo
According to some experts, Beijing’s way of deciding what it will consider a Covid-19 death could make the country’s outbreak seem less serious than it really is.
In December, the National Health Commission (NHC) announced that only deaths caused by pneumonia and respiratory failure would be classified as deaths caused by Covid-19. Jiao Yahui, an official with the commission, later said China would report deaths from Covid-related respiratory failure as well as deaths of other patients infected with the coronavirus.
The Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said it recorded 6,364 deaths from January 20 to 26, down from 12,658 between January 13 and 19. But some are still concerned about deaths being undercounted.
Earlier last month, China pushed back against claims that it had not been transparent about the severity of its Covid-19 surge, and suggested that its rate of severe illness and death compared favourably with other nations.
Staff writers and Reuters
Coronavirus: all borders between mainland China, Hong Kong to reopen from Monday
Illustration: Perry Tse
Do you recognise any of the tourist attractions above? This illustration was created last September. What do you think the face mask was meant to symbolise? Explain.
Identify TWO aspects of the situation depicted that have changed since the illustration was created. Explain using information from Context.
US will require Covid-19 testing for travellers from China
News: South Korea and Japan’s restrictions on Chinese tourists
South Korea has extended its restrictions on issuing short-term visas to travellers from mainland China
Japan has limited the number of flights carriers can operate from Hong Kong, the mainland and Macau
South Korea and Japan are among the countries that have issued Covid restrictions on travellers from China.
On January 27, South Korea extended its restrictions on issuing short-term visas to travellers from mainland China until the end of February, citing concerns over a viral resurgence following gatherings and travel during the Lunar New Year holiday. The steps originally were imposed for the month of January. On January 31, the country’s prime minister suggested the curbs could be lifted earlier if China’s infections eased.
Last December, Japan tightened rules for travellers coming directly from China, requiring negative results from a PCR test taken less than 72 hours before departure as well as a negative test upon arrival.
The Japanese government has also limited the number of flights that carriers can operate from Hong Kong, the mainland and Macau. The Japanese consulate in Hong Kong said this was because of the country’s quarantine capacity.
Passengers coming from China arrive at the Incheon International Airport in South Korea. Photo: AP
In retaliation for these curbs on travellers from China, Beijing suspended issuing visas to citizens of Japan and South Korea on January 10.
But on January 29, China resumed issuing visas to Japanese citizens, according to a statement posted on the Chinese embassy’s website. The announcement came a little over a week after the Japanese embassy in Beijing said that its visa service in China, which was temporarily reduced because of the Covid-19 pandemic, had resumed normal operations.
As of February 3, Beijing had yet to say when it would restart processing visa applications for South Koreans, raising concerns about disrupted business activities in a country that depends on exports to China.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said the suspension was necessary to protest against “discriminatory entry restrictions” on its citizens. On January 19, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin called on countries to lift “discriminatory restrictions” targeting Chinese travellers and to work with Beijing to restore normal cross-border travel.
Based on News, why do you think China has restricted South Korean travellers but has resumed issuing visas to Japanese citizens?
With reference to News and Context, explain ONE argument for and ONE against South Korea’s extension of restrictions on travellers from mainland China.
The Lens: South Korea implements Covid-19 test requirements on travellers from China
Issue: Struggling Southeast Asian countries waiting for Chinese tourists
Places such as Malaysia and Thailand look forward to an economic boom from return of visitors from China
However, some fear that the return of Chinese tourists will lead to a rebound of virus cases
China’s reopening has sparked a scramble for flights to top destinations, including in Southeast Asian countries. Malaysia and Thailand, with direct flights and few health controls, offer Chinese travellers a quick and easy escape, in contrast with Japan and South Korea.
But glee and excitement for the economic boom to come have been tempered by fears over a rebound of virus cases, pressure on health services, and the potential for new variants to emerge from a population that has yet to achieve herd immunity.
In early January, for example, Malaysian social media was bristling at the looming return of Chinese tourists.
Tour operator Justin Lee questioned the rush to allow Chinese tourists back in just as the Malaysian economy was stabilising after a grim few years of scarring lockdowns and movement restrictions.
“We have enough to eat now, and there is no need to rush to take risks,” he wrote on Facebook. “If [Chinese tourists’ return] causes us to return to lockdown, who will be responsible?”
Chinese travellers tour Pung Tao Gong Chinese Temple in Chiang Mai. Photo: AP
Thailand emerged as the top destination for mainland tourists over the festive holidays, with travel packages on Trip.com Group’s travel service platform Ctrip worth 40 million yuan (US$5.89 million) sold out.
Destinations like Chiang Mai, a scenic city in northern Thailand, are the busiest they have been since the pandemic struck, but they are still relatively quiet. The resumption of group tours from China is likely to bring far more visitors. For now, only individual travellers who can afford to pay are venturing abroad, as flights cost more than triple what they normally do.
In 2019, 1.2 million Chinese tourists visited Chiang Mai, generating 15 billion baht (HK$3.89 billion) of tourism-related income, money sorely missed across the region as countries shut their borders to most travel during Covid-19.
But the number of tourists who will come would depend on the number of flights operating, said Suladda Sarutilawan, director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s Chiang Mai office. She said the hope was for about 500,000 to 600,000 visitors from China this year.
Staff writer and Associated Press
What are TWO factors slowing down the return of Chinese tourists to Thailand?
Based on Context, News and Issue, how have Malaysia and Thailand reacted differently to China’s border reopening as compared to Japan and South Korea? Explain ONE reason behind this difference.
Hot Topics: How China’s lowest birth rate ever could affect the economy
What has China’s border reopening meant for its people? For the first time in nearly three years, Chinese people were free to travel back to their hometowns to reunite with their families during Lunar New Year – the most important holiday for many of them – without the hassle of quarantine and lockdowns. (accept other reasonable answers)
Why are some countries welcoming Chinese tourists while others have imposed restrictions? Some countries rely on tourism, and they hope the influx of Chinese visitors will boost their economies. On the other hand, other places have imposed restrictions on tourists from China because they are worried that the country is underreporting the severity of its Covid-19 outbreak.
Do you recognise any of the tourist attractions above? This illustration was created last September. What do you think the face mask was meant to symbolise? Explain. I recognise some of the attractions are places in China – for example, the Great Wall in the background and famous buildings in Beijing and Shanghai along the skyline. The face mask was likely meant to symbolise China’s strict zero-Covid restrictions at the time.
Identify TWO aspects of the situation depicted that have changed since the illustration was created. Explain using information from Context. China no longer has restrictions on travel, and there are now millions of people taking trips domestically as well as in and out of the country. (accept other reasonable answers)
Based on News, why do you think China has restricted South Korean travellers but has resumed issuing visas to Japanese citizens? China considers these Covid-related curbs on travellers from China as “discriminatory restrictions”, so the government enforced travel restrictions as retaliation against South Korea and Japan. But the Japanese embassy in Beijing said that its visa service in China, which was temporarily reduced because of the Covid-19 pandemic, had resumed normal operations. So about a week later, China resumed issuing visas to Japanese citizens.
With reference to News and Context, explain ONE argument for and ONE against South Korea’s extension of restrictions on travellers from mainland China. South Korea has concerns over a viral resurgence following massive gatherings and cross-country travel during the Lunar New Year holiday. Between January 7 and January 29, passenger trips reached 892 million. Also, Beijing’s narrow criteria for classifying Covid-19 deaths could underestimate the true scale of the outbreak. On the other hand, South Korea heavily depends on exports to China, so these restrictions could disrupt business activities.
What are TWO factors slowing down the return of Chinese tourists to Thailand? Group tours from China did not resume until February 6, and flights right now cost more than triple what they normally do as there are not enough flights operating.
Based on Context, News and Issue, how have Malaysia and Thailand reacted differently to China’s border reopening as compared to Japan and South Korea? Explain ONE reason behind this difference. Malaysia and Thailand offer few health controls and restrictions for tourists from China, as compared to Japan and South Korea. The reason behind this difference is likely related to how Malaysia and Thailand rely more on tourists from China. For example, in 2019, 1.2 million Chinese tourists visited Chiang Mai, a city in northern Thailand, generating 15 billion baht (HK$3.89 billion) of tourism-related income.
China’s travel market
the world’s largest outbound travel market in 2019, when the number of international trips by Chinese travellers reached nearly 155 million. Chinese tourists’ US$255 billion (HK$1.99 trillion) in annual global spending ground to a near halt during the pandemic.
group tours from China
from February 6, Chinese travel agencies can resume outbound group tours with an initial list of 20 countries. These include Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia.
as Covid-19 spreads in China, some experts worry about the emergence of new mutations. The CDC said China was tracking “Orthrus”, also known as CH.1.1, an emerging, more transmissible Omicron subvariant becoming more common in Britain and the United States. The agency said there had been 24 CH.1.1 cases over the past three months.
restrictions with the goal of containing the spread of Covid-19, including mass testing, quarantine and lockdown. Since December, China has scrapped mass testing and the release of daily Covid-19 case numbers. From January, incoming travellers no longer needed to quarantine. A CDC report showed PCR tests have decreased across the country, from 150 million on December 9 to just 974,000 on January 30.