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80,000 Vacationers in China’s Tropical Hainan Stranded by New ‘Zero-COVID’ Lockdown

Alina Wang
A native of New York, Alina has a Bachelors degree in Corporate Communications from Baruch College and writes about human rights, politics, tech, and society.
Published: August 9, 2022
Travelers are seen in Sanya’s Phoenix International Airport as thousands try to leave the popular vacation spot — located in China’s island province of Hainan on August 9, 2022. (Image: STR/AFP via Getty Images)

China’s southern island province of Hainan has been placed under lockdown after a cluster of new COVID-19 infections was detected. The city of Sanya, which is heavily dependent on tourism, saw over 80,000 people stranded after authorities imposed a citywide lockdown on Monday, Aug. 8. 

State media reported that the city’s transportation — including all train stations and airports — would be shut down until further notice. Frustrated tourists reported skyrocketing accommodation costs as they waited to hear from authorities when they’ll be allowed to leave the city and return home. 

Strict pandemic control measures have been a perennial occurrence all across China, where the communist authorities are obsessed with maintaining “zero-COVID.” 


According to statistics released by Hainan’s Health Commision, as of Aug. 7, there were 504 confirmed infections in the province — out of which 413 were traced back to Sanya. On Aug. 8, an additional 77 cases were reported in the cities of Danzhou, Wanning, Haikou, Qionghai, as well as in Lingshui, Ledong, Chengmai, and Lingao counties. Authorities added that Sanya’s total COVID tally now stands at 1,243 — prompting stricter lockdown measures as cases continue to climb.  

Travelers are seen trying to go through airport security at Sanya’s Phoenix International Airport on August 9, 2022. Over 80,000 visitors are currently stranded in China’s island province of Hainan after a recent spike in COVID-19 cases was detected — prompting authorities to declare a citywide lockdown in Sanya — and cancel most flights out of the province. (Image: by STR/AFP via Getty Images)

The city’s epidemic control measures also announced on Aug. 6 that any travelers who had arrived in Sanya after July 23 would have to undergo nucleic acid testing for several consecutive days before being cleared, and given the green light to leave the city. 

Exorbitant hotel prices

According to mainland Chinese outlet Zhengguan News, some travelers said they were forced to pay a lot more to stay at “government-approved” hotels. And although authorities had promised “free accommodation and transportation arrangements” for those stuck in Sanya, the reality was much different. 

“The current ‘half price’ [for a hotel room] is more expensive than the original price we initially booked,” one traveler said. 

Another tourist from Kunming, a city located in southwest China, told the outlet that she had been forced to extend her stay, and had to pay for everything out of her own pocket.

“Now no one can leave and we are forced to extend our stays here. But contrary to what the government said, the hotels are all charging more than what we initially paid to come here,” she said, adding that, “Everyone says that the local Sanya government will have us covered, that we’ll eat and stay here for free, but that’s not what’s happening!”

“What we’re paying now is the most expensive peak season rate,” she said. 

Widely circulated videos on social media also showed angry travelers demanding that hotel rates be lowered. “Who will be responsible for us missing work, and pay our bills while we’re stuck here,” one person could be heard saying. While another said: “We have to pay a high price for this mess!” 

A businesswoman named Yang Jing told Reuters that since the lockdown in Sanya was imposed, she has been staying in a four-star hotel with her husband and children — paying out-of-pocket for all the expenses. 

“It has been the worst holiday of my life,” Yang, who resides in China’s Jiangxi Province said, adding that the family was eating cups of instant noodles everyday to avoid spending more money on food. 

COVID situation turns into an inter-province media spat

On Saturday, Aug. 6, state mouthpiece China Central Television (CCTV) announced the suspension of all train tickets, and said that over 80 percent of outgoing flights from Sanya’s airport would be canceled. No other information was made immediately available. 

“We just hope this doesn’t become another Shanghai,” one of the travelers could be heard saying. 

According to Chinese state-backed outlet, The Paper, many people in Sanya were afraid of facing the same fate as that of Shanghai’s. The largest city in China saw some of the strictest lockdown and movement curbs in the world, with Shanghai’s 26 million residents forced to stay inside their homes for over three months from March to mid-June. 

The Paper’s coverage, which ran for several articles, even poked fun at the government’s chaotic response to quelling new COVID-19 outbreaks. “The [government] is disregarding the overall situation, opting instead to close down an entire city because of a single outbreak,” it said, adding that vacationers stuck in Sanya can be seen “agonized in the city’s streets,” desperate to return home.

The media attention on Sanya didn’t sit well with local state-run outlet Hainan Daily, which ran a piece chiding The Paper — a Shanghai-based publication —  for “trying to mooch off the media attention generated by human suffering.” 

The Hainan Daily accused The Paper of basing “all the relevant articles on negative incidents [during the outbreak] that are biased and [often] even hearsay.” It questioned The Paper’s motives, asking “what do they have against Sanya that they … try so hard to create this gloomy media narrative?” 

In a roundabout reference to public annoyance over the Communist Party’s strict “zero-COVID” policies, the provincial media further noted Shanghai had recently had its own lengthy and ruinous lockdown, after which many Shanghaiers had “hurried over” to enjoy the tropical vacation spot. 

“Did we not treat you well when you came to Sanya one after another after the pandemic restrictions were lifted? … or are you jealous of Hainan’s 10-percent GDP growth this year?”