Life returns to streets as epidemic eases in China

2020-03-28 06:29:37 GMT2020-03-28 14:29:37(Beijing Time) Xinhua English
Children have fun at the wetland park of Fenghuang Lake in Chengdu, capital of southwest China's Sichuan Province, March 25, 2020. (Xinhua/Xu Bingjie)  Children have fun at the wetland park of Fenghuang Lake in Chengdu, capital of southwest China's Sichuan Province, March 25, 2020. (Xinhua/Xu Bingjie)

BEIJING, March 27 (Xinhua) -- A butterfly greets the newly bloomed flower. A honeybee is busy with its daily grind. The spring season has returned along with all its mystical beauty, so is people's life as the COVID-19 epidemic is leveling off in China.

Shops and eateries reopen and roads are bustling again after hundreds of millions of people nationwide embraced their life under isolation for weeks -- confined to their own four walls or neighborhoods.

"It was suffering to stay at home for such a long time. Now the spring is in the air and things are turning around," said a down-to-earth foodie Zhang, while gulping palatable dishes at a restaurant in Chengdu, capital of southwest China's Sichuan Province.

"Oh finally, my favorite hot pot," said a hot pot aficionado Chen who comes from afar to have a meal at a local restaurant after it reopened recently. "I hadn't had the delicate cate in the past weeks. Today I finally satisfied the craving."

The catering and tourism industries, which take up big shares in China's economic growth, are among the sectors hardest hit by the epidemic. They are now slowly springing back to life after eateries and cafes have begun opening their long-shuttered doors and scenic spots have reopened to tourists as the epidemic receded.

"Now the epidemic is under good control. People are getting back to their normal lives and embracing the best season of the year before it passes," said Ren Jingxuan, owner of a Korean-style barbeque restaurant in Chengdu.

RESURGENT CATERING INDUSTRY

"Welcome, pizza night is back," said Simone Crespi while greeting his German guest by bumping elbows. "It would be a giant hug under normal circumstances."On March 17, Simone, one of the three owners of Italian restaurant Bucciano in Chengdu, promoted a pizza night on social media platform WeChat.

The restaurant saw its first wave of customers since the COVID-19 epidemic. Marco, the manager, took each of the customers' temperatures and sprayed alcohol on their hands.

Impacted by COVID-19, the Bucciano restaurant was closed from the Spring Festival to late February. As the epidemic wanes, the restaurant also started to receive about 15 online orders per day on delivery applications such as Meituan and on WeChat.

"The Chinese government is efficient in making the right decisions, and the Chinese people strictly follow the rules. Those efforts show great results," said Simone.

From his point of view, things are going back to normal. "Now we are operating at half capacity, but hopefully business will make a full recovery by the end of March," Simone said.

Scott Williams and Philipp Muckley are frequent visitors to the restaurant. This is the first time they have meals in a restaurant since the outbreak.

"Apart from some necessary protective measures, our life is not much different from before. I am very happy to meet my friends and enjoy delicious food again," said Williams, general manager of an executive apartment in Chengdu.

In Chengdu, one of the UNESCO Creative Cities of Gastronomy, its cuisine comes not only from elegant restaurants, but also roadside diners.

At mealtimes on weekdays, office workers flock into small streets and alleys where diners selling local signature dishes are scattered.

"Chengdu is alive again, with bowls full of spicy noodle soup and people having meals on the street side and road junctions," said 25-year-old Li, a white-collar in the city.

"Since March when people started resuming work, the restaurant business has gradually picked up. Now it has restored about 40 percent of its normal turnover," said Ji, owner of a rice noodle diner.

According to the Sichuan Provincial Department of Commerce, the food and beverage industry suffered a heavy loss due to the epidemic. About 93 percent of food and beverage enterprises were closed during the epidemic, and the revenue of the catering industry fell 79 percent in February compared with the same period last year.

On March 25, Sichuan downgraded its emergency response to the novel coronavirus outbreak from the second level to the third level. All public venues including eateries, cinemas, theaters, bars, museums and libraries are reopening in an orderly manner. About 86.5 percent of the 261,000 online and offline catering enterprises in the province have resumed business by March 23.

To further boost the consumption sector hit hard by the epidemic, as of March 25, 11 cities and prefectures in the province have rolled out a sew of supportive measures to encourage citizens to dine out and boost consumption.

Among those measures, restaurants facing the street are allowed to set up tables outside the restaurant without affecting traffic and pedestrians, in an effort to receive more customers.

"For small shops, the policy is very useful as we have to seat clients farther apart and only receive a limited number of customers at a time," said Xiong Jianmei, owner of a hot-pot and a noodle restaurant. "It also reduces people's worries after seeing more dining out."

"The once-bustling street is gradually coming back to life, so is our business and lives," said Xiong.

REVIVING TOURISM SECTOR

The domestic traveling industry contributes greatly to China's economic growth. However, the coronavirus epidemic put a brake on tourism during the peak travel period of the Chinese Spring Festival holiday.

A report published by the China Tourism Academy (CTA) predicted that the industry might see a 56-percent slump in the number of domestic tourists in the first quarter, with the total revenue of the domestic tourism market expected to slash by 20 percent in 2020.

But now, things are turning around with multiple indices showing a revival of confidence and willingness to travel.

The latest report conducted by China's largest online travel agency Trip.com Group showed that as of mid-March, more than 1,000 tourist sites had reopened to visitors across the country.

Hainan, an island province with abundant tourism resources in south China, reopened its major tourist sites starting from Feb. 21. In Sichuan, about 60 percent of its top-rating scenic spots have also reopened to tourists.

A group of 22 local residents set off for a road trip on March 21 in Haikou, capital of Hainan, marking the province's first group tour since the epidemic outbreak.

"It's safe to go out for a trip as the epidemic is under well control," said He Wen, who participated in the one-day tour to Tunchang county in central Hainan.

The trip organizers, two local travel agencies, checked the body temperature and health QR codes of each tourist, and handed out protective materials including masks and hand sanitizers before they boarded the bus, said Sun Xiangtao, deputy secretary of the Haikou Association of Travel Services.

In Sichuan, 20 tourists also departed for a one-day trip to an ancient town after the province restarted group tour services on March 18. "The epidemic has eased a lot and we came out for a relax," said 36-year-old Huang Lijuan from Chengdu.

According to a report released in early March by Trip.com Group, Sanya, a resort coastal city of Hainan, topped the list of preferred destinations across the country.

Wang Zixin, a tourist from Zhengzhou, capital of central China's Henan Province, began a vacation in Sanya several days ago. "It's too boring to stay at home, so I come here for a trip with my family," said Wang, who had never been to Hainan before.

After visiting different tourist attractions and a duty-free shop, Wang said the trip was completely worth it. "The city did a very good job in the coronavirus prevention and control, which is reassuring," she said.

"The tourism industry is recovering with effective epidemic controls in Hainan, and more tourists are willing to travel," said Zheng Conghui, chairman of the Sanya Tourist Attractions Association.

In a bid to cushion the tourism sector against the outbreak, many regions in China have issued measures to support the tourism industry.

Hainan has launched a post-epidemic plan to revitalize its tourism industry, with measures ranging from strengthening financial support to stimulating tourism consumption and global promotion. Its provincial government will earmark at least 150 million yuan (about 21 million U.S. dollars) to support tourism companies.

"The market fundamentals supporting the operation of the tourism industry have not changed, and there is a great possibility that domestic tourism consumption will bottom out and rebound," said Dai Bin, president of the CTA.

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