Last updated January 14, 2021

Today’s Status, Looking Towards Spring 2021 — Yellow

We’re excited that China is reporting success with containing the virus, keeping numbers low, and returning to the routine of daily life (with some adjustments and changes). Many tourist hot spots have been reopened for months which is another bit of good news. Foreigners just can’t get into China right now (it’s a change we’re anxiously waiting for). 

Check below to get more details on some key aspects that we’re watching. Each of these components help us determine when we’ll be able to send volunteers to China again (it’s stuff you’re going to want to know).  Also, this info can change frequently. Our goal is to keep things current with weekly updates, so check back often.

Getting There

Unfortunately, China’s borders are currently closed to the majority of foreigners right now, including US citizens not traveling for specific purposes (like employment). There’s no timeline for when that may change, but we’re crossing our fingers it’ll happen sooner than later. Currently, only foreign travelers from certain countries with certain visa types are allowed to enter.

We’ve had volunteers teaching in China for years who have absolutely loved their experience with the culture and exploring the beautiful country. We’re so anxious to hear when they’ll be reopening their borders and welcoming in foreigners again!

In order to teach in China, our volunteers are required to obtain a visa for the semester. Only limited visa types are being processed right now, and those visa types do not include visas for ILP volunteers.

Flights from the US to China have been going on since about June. However, for travelers from the US, the visa processing restrictions and limitations have prevented the large number of people from traveling to China who were traveling to this country before the pandemic.

Daily Life

China has seen major successes over the past several months with their extremely strict lockdown measures and containment efforts during the worst peak of infections back in February. 

As of January 14th, China has 0.0 active cases per 100,000 people. Even with uncertain reliability of testing numbers, our contacts in China confirm that hospitals are open and not near capacity anymore, and restrictions have been eased. When cases are discovered, the Chinese government has been one of the most strict, so easing restrictions is a particularly good sign.

As the country opened up, many schools across China opened in phases, with all students back by the end of May. They’re being quite cautious: daily temperature checks, social distancing, spacing desks apart, wearing masks, etc, are all now a part of a typical school day. 

An outbreak in Beijing (in mid-June) did put a wrinkle in reopening. Beijing immediately pressed pause on in-person classes to limit further potential cases. Schools around the country are still in session and we’re hopeful programs in Beijing continue once the nation feels more comfortable with the already successful containment efforts.

Stores, museums, parks, and even public transportation have been open for months. As China has celebrated big holidays (like the Golden Week in October), millions of tourists have traveled around the country visiting favorite destinations and cities within China like the Great Wall, the Forbidden City in Beijing, the streets in Shanghai, and several others. Shanghai reported almost no new cases after all the holiday travel. Our friends living in China say that for all intents and purposes, daily life and travel are back to normal within China.

We’re seeing a trend that in China when there’s a local outbreak, it’s responded to quickly and very strictly rather than responding later at a nationwide level. It’s proved to be successful and we’re happy to see so many daily activities opening back up.

Out & About

Everyone in China is required to use a contact tracing app with daily check-ins and a daily approval code for activities. The approval code is necessary for activities ranging from travel to buying something at a store. If someone you have had contact with comes down with the virus your approval to do some activities may not be given that day. There are also some different entry requirements when you’re traveling between provinces (some require a 14-day travel itinerary and your test results).

China has been in a re-opening phase for months now and locals have been taking full advantage after country-wide quarantines. So many of our longtime favorite spots have reopened, with new safety parameters in place like capacity limits, temperature checks upon entering, booking tickets in advance, and the requirement to wear a mask.

Here are just a few of the updates we’re hearing about: 

Feb 28 — Zhangjiajie National Park reopened to visitors. It’s a NP found in a remote part of China that’s perfect for hiking — it’s widely considered a favorite destination for both locals and our volunteers.  The town reports things starting to return to a more familiar state with businesses reopening as well.
March 2 — Tianmen Mountain (in the town of Zhangjiajie) reopened cable car access to the mountain.
March 24 — Sections of the Great Wall, including Badaling (the most popular for visitors), reopened.
March 25 — The Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an reopened.
April 4 — Mount Huangshan reopened. They saw a tremendous amount of visitors opening weekend and authorities urged travelers to see other sites because capacity was at its max the first few days.
May 1 — Beijing’s museums, including the capital’s famous Forbidden City, reopened.
May 1-5 — During China’s national Labor Day (a 5-day holiday), Suzhou extended hours for it’s most popular areas to help stagger the crowds.
May 11 — Disneyland Shanghai reopened with a few restrictions.
July 20 — Movie theaters open in low-risk areas.
September 20 — 90% of students are back in class
September 25 — Disneyland Hong Kong reopens after closing in July
October 1-7 — Millions of tourists visited countless sites during the Golden Week Holiday
January 1 — Thousands celebrate together for the New Year and get ready for Chinese New Year

Trains and domestic flights are operating, however there may be sporadic closures. As an example, train routes to and from Beijing were canceled when an outbreak in the city occurred in mid-June.

In previous semesters, ILP groups did not leave China due to single-entry visa restrictions. So this aspect of the experience won’t be affected by the virus. We’re just happy that China has so much to offer as far as vacations go, there’s really no reason to leave during the semester!

Okay, now what?  Should I still apply for China

If you’re thinking “that’s all really good to know, but what does that mean for me?” we have some good news to share: time is still totally on your side.

We’ve seen policies change without notice that have made the difference between us thinking we need to wait longer to open a semester, and deciding to send volunteers there. Sometimes that has happened in the span of just a couple of weeks or even in a single day. A lot could change for our Fall 2021 volunteers. 

So we say start your application now so that you’re ready when the time comes. We are going to need volunteers who are ready to go right when things change for the better, which is why we think it’s a good idea to have your application in (even if things potentially look uncertain right now). Time really is on your side.

We’re also here for all of your questions. We’d love to talk about deferring to a later semester if things still need more time or finding a country right now that’ll be a good fit for you. You can bet that once things open up, you’ll be the first to know!