Tourists trickle back to village by China's Great Wall as virus curbs relaxed

GUBEI WATER TOWN, China (Reuters) – The mock Qing dynasty village nestled below the Great Wall would normally be teeming with tourists on Labour Day, but the thin crowds on Friday showed that while China’s coronavirus epidemic has subsided, people’s fears could take longer to fade.

During holidays, some 100,000 visitors a day would traipse round the quaint stone-paved streets of Gubei Water Town, 110 kilometres (68 miles) northeast of Beijing. Its marketing manager reckoned on getting just a tenth of that number this year.

“People have concerns about the virus and are unwilling to travel long distances,” said Guo Baorong. For a start, there will be no international tourists this time, he said, noting foreigners would normally make up around 15% of visitors.

About 70% of China’s tourist attractions had reopened as of Thursday, according to China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism, but all sites have had to cap visitors to 30% of designed capacity.

More sites, including the Forbidden City in Beijing, were set to reopen Friday.

Staff at the entrance to Gubei Water Town checked visitors’ temperatures and health tracking codes. And inside, lines on the ground directed tourists to stand one meter apart and stores used ropes to keep crowds from forming. Like everywhere in China since the lockdowns were imposed to stem the epidemic, everyone wore masks.

Still, in places where tourists squeezed together as the streets narrowed, staff shouted at them to spread out.

Some tourists enjoyed the smaller crowds.

Xiao Chen, a 24-year-old student wearing traditional Chinese garb known as “Hanfu” came to Gubei to take pictures around ancient architecture.

“It’s good to come out of the city. There was barely anyone in Gubei Water Town yesterday, and even today, it’s not crowded,” she said.

The tranquility may not last. Room bookings jumped on Thursday after Beijing and nearby areas began easing coronavirus restrictions, with about 90% of accommodation now reserved.

“We were not expecting that many people to come in,” said Guo.

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