The setting is a dream: in Sanya Bay, on the island of Hainan, in southern China, a tropical beach of white sand stretches for 22 kilometers and the infrastructure is as modern as it gets. The island, over the years, has become an essential tourist destination for locals and foreigners alike.

But this summer, what was supposed to be a hassle-free stay turned into a terrible quagmire for thousands of vacationers.

After the discovery of several cases of Covid-19, the Chinese government decided to apply its fearsome “zero Covid” policy on the island.

Result: the borders are blocked, and tourists are confined to their hotels.

Thomas has been an expatriate in Shenzhen for 16 years. The Frenchman came to Sanya for a peaceful vacation, after several summers weighed down by the pandemic.

“Having not returned to France for nearly 3 years for most of us due to the restrictions in place, we came to Sanya for a week’s holiday with my partner and a group of friends. In all, we were 16 adults and 14 children. We arrived on July 30,” the expatriate tells us.

The band’s return was scheduled for August 5. But nothing went as planned.

“My flight was canceled on August 5 and then rescheduled for August 7. Then, that of August 7 was canceled on August 6 and then postponed to August 15″, explains Thomas. On wechat groups (an electronic messaging application used in China) bringing together several foreigners, he then exchanges with many expatriates, them also, stranded in Sanya and Hainan Island.

And then, on August 6, the official announcement falls. “She confirmed that it would not be possible to leave the island for at least 7 days and 5 consecutive negative tests over these 7 days”, continues the French. This is the disappointment for the 200,000 tourists present, at that time, in the island province.

“I suspected that it would be complicated to return from August 5 because the island was already closing in, with in particular the closure of the ferry to leave the island, blockages on the roads, and the stop the sale of train tickets…”, says Thomas.

From then on, in Hainan, the authorities were at a standstill: makeshift hospitals were set up to treat Covid-19 patients, volunteers flocked from all over the country to take care of tourists and carry out tests. the chain.

For vacationers, the instructions are strict: no one goes home. Hundreds of people thus remained stranded at the airport. Others had to return to their hotel rooms, like Thomas. “The city of Sanya has imposed on all hotels to give a 50% discount on hotel rooms,” he said. A strange forced-extended vacation, in short.

“I am not yet locked in my room or in my hotel. But I’m not supposed to go out unless necessary, the expatriate tells us. I still manage to jog in the morning and a short walk in the evening.”

Residents and tourists are also subject to daily PCR tests. “I do my Covid test in the morning, at a screening point which is 500 meters from my hotel”, specifies the Frenchman.

To keep busy, Thomas works: he had taken care to take his computer on a trip with him.

“Not everyone is so ‘lucky’,” he explains. Some are stuck in their hotel, with nets and guards surrounding their hotels. A lot of teachers here risk missing the start of the school year, and not getting paid.”

On this island the size of Belgium, usually very lively in summer, the atmosphere has become, overnight, deadly. “Everything is closed, except pharmacies and supermarkets. It’s very very quiet outside. The place is quite deserted,” assures Thomas.

But for all that, Hainan is far from giving in to panic. “These are known situations in China. People respect the measures put in place, even if we can see tensions at times”, continues the French.

“Overwhelmed” telephone lines, according to him, have been set up by the government to help stranded tourists deal with any difficulties. “Bags of provisions (very basic) are also distributed in hotels,” adds Thomas.

Thomas explains that it is quite complicated to eat properly. “I have breakfast at the hotel. I get delivered for other meals, but with a limited choice. I’m not having fun,” he says.

Stranded tourists also live under the threat of being declared positive, or contact case. “Because there, it becomes another story. I don’t want to be embarked on a centralized quarantine, and that would further delay the possibility of a return to Shenzhen very indefinitely,” adds Thomas.

However, the Frenchman is not surprised by the situation. “China is implementing a zero Covid policy. There have been more than 1,000 cases on the island in one week. We are at a daily average of 400-500 cases. These are high levels for China which takes extreme measures in such situations to prevent the spread of the virus.”

Under these conditions, the French are struggling to see a way out in the coming days. “I have a flight on August 15, which is not canceled yet, but I am not optimistic that it will be maintained.

For him, this is the most difficult part: “not knowing when we can return. The 5 tests in 7 days do not guarantee a return. The airport is still closed. As long as there are cases in the city, leaving the island will be difficult,” says the expat.

Especially since the conditions for leaving Hainan Island change every day, he explains. “The government is organizing the departure of tourists, according to certain conditions and the areas where we are (low risk, medium risk, high risk). Today it is impossible to leave the island if you are in a medium risk area, even if you have done your 5 tests in one week.

So, Thomas takes his troubles patiently, and stays informed. “We are waiting for our turn, and we are crossing our fingers. But it may be long, and be done in dribs and drabs”, predicts the Frenchman.