STORY: Chu Wenhong is packing her bags for a momentous occasion: in just a day, she's going to see her family in-person for the first time in three years, because of the pandemic.
Chu lives in Singapore and she's going to Shanghai, China.
Her mom, waiting for her there, is 78-years old. Her dad is 83.
China only lifted its strict COVID border controls, which ended almost all travel in and out of the country, days ago; and she's been worried about them.
"Borders were closed. We couldn’t go back, and they couldn’t come out. China remained closed off after Singapore reopened. So to go back, people needed to do PCR tests, undergo quarantine, and the prices of flight tickets skyrocketed. There were too many obstacles.”
"They both got COVID, and are quite old. I feel quite lucky actually, as it wasn’t too serious for them, but their health is not very good. So, I want to go home and see them as soon as possible.“
And here we go.
With inbound quarantines scrapped, there's been a huge surge in demand for plane tickets to China from countries with large Chinese communities.
For example Chu paid about U.S.$1,700 for her one-way ticket from Singapore. In comparison, a return trip before the pandemic would have only cost about $450.
The timing is also a big deal because the Lunar New Year starts on January 21st, which is important for Chinese families because it's often the only holiday where they all get together. So the price was worth it, Chu says.
"I want to see my mother and take a good look at her. I haven't seen her for a long, long time. My younger sister is also waiting, and my niece is also waiting. I am not sure if my dad has gone to bed as he's old now."
And finally, the moment we've been waiting for.
Hugs. Chu is saying it hasn't been that difficult. Her mother, Cao Yafang, is saying her daughter is so hard-working.
Catching up with her sister and niece, showing off pictures of a trip to Malaysia.
"She is pretty much the same as she was in the video chat. Now that I’ve seen her in person, my heart is more at ease. She said that if she didn't get to see me today, she won’t be able to sleep. I think we have to meet each other in person as she has come back."
China is still struggling with the new outbreak of the virus, overwhelming its hospitals and many of its people lack natural immunity or aren't fully vaccinated.
But for now, a happy ending to one family's very long ordeal.