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After nearly three years, China has opened its borders to inbound travelers


After nearly three years virtually cut off from the rest of the world, China opened its borders this week. That means inbound travelers no longer need to wait out a government-arranged quarantine. And at Beijing's main airport, there were tearful and joyous scenes as people began traveling internationally again. NPR's Emily Feng reports.


EMILY FENG, BYLINE: For the first time in a long time, travelers disembarked from their international flights in China and ran directly into the arms of waiting loved ones and not white hazmat-suited health workers waiting to take them to quarantine.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Chinese).

FENG: "This feels so strange," one traveler exclaims.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Chinese).

FENG: Gakushi Shimada, a Japanese exchange student, was at the airport to see off his girlfriend. He himself would also fly back to Tokyo in two weeks.

GAKUSHI SHIMADA: (Non-English language spoken).

FENG: He explains that he hasn't gone home in nearly two years because when borders closed, he feared he wouldn't be able to reenter China to finish his degree if he left. So he stayed.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Chinese).

FENG: Nearby, the Lin family was hugging it out.

LIN: (Speaking Chinese).

FENG: Ms. Lin, the matriarch, was teary-eyed. Her daughter was returning to London for work. She'd only been in China for her 15-day holiday break and spent eight of those days in quarantine before borders reopened.

LIN: (Speaking Chinese).

FENG: "Before, I wasn't so tearful and sorrowful seeing her off," Ms. Lin says, "but this time it hurts so much."

LIN: (Speaking Chinese).

FENG: "Perhaps it's because of the pandemic," she says. "It makes the distances far, and you realize how difficult and rare it is to see your loved ones."

Because this week was not a complete opening for China - you still have to get a visa to go if you don't have citizenship, and visas are hard to get. And airlines are still adding international flights to China again. Only 10 international flights landed on Monday in Beijing Capital Airport, a reminder of just how closed off China became during the pandemic.

Emily Feng, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Emily Feng is NPR's Beijing correspondent.

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