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On the Sino-Burmese border, a Covid-depleted city is slowly coming back to life – Science et Avenir

In southern China, on the border with Burma, the city of Ruili is slowly coming back to life thanks to Beijing abandoning its zero-tolerance strategy for Covid after three years of harsh detentions.

Near the border post, shops selling famous local jade jewelry seem abandoned. The clientele has dried up due to the lack of cross-border transport since April 2020.

China’s reopening gives hope for a revival of Ruili’s sluggish economy. On Sunday, a Burmese official told the AFP news agency that the border had finally been partially opened and that several trucks had crossed.

Leaning against a barrier separating the two countries, two men look through the gate at the neighboring city of Mews in Burma.

“We are from Burma,” said one. “We haven’t been home for three years and we miss him very much.”

Ruyili has become one of the hardest hit Chinese cities after three years of draconian health policies. Because of its position on the frontier, the authorities, who were keen to avoid the importation of Covid cases at all costs, saw it as a particularly sensitive moment.

Its residents have been jailed more than a dozen times and not allowed to travel for most of the pandemic.

“We’ve been locked up so many times every year! Not once or twice. It’s like we’ve been sleeping at home for months,” Duan, a jade seller at the market, told AFP.

Unable to operate normally, many businesses have been forced to shut down, he laments, pointing to the closed stalls around him.

– The population is declining sharply –

The city, which had nearly 250,000 residents before the pandemic, saw its population drop by 40,000 between 2020 and 2021, according to the latest census.

Huang, another jewelry seller, told AFP she was trapped in Ruili by a 2020 travel ban after attending her mother-in-law’s funeral in remote northern Shanxi province.

When restrictions were lifted last month, she hurried back to finally celebrate Lunar New Year again at the end of January with her parents.

Information about whether the border will be opened remains unclear. Wu Ming Thein, vice president of the Muse Rice Exchange, told AFP on Sunday that China is not yet allowing people to cross it.

Ruili residents, for their part, told AFP that the Chinese authorities had given the green light for the checkpoints to open, but that Burma had not yet given permission for travelers to enter.

– The concern of the Burmese side –

In Musa, on the Burmese side, residents are worried about the current outbreak of Covid-19 cases in China, where the government has acknowledged at least 60,000 deaths since health restrictions were lifted a month ago.

“More than a hundred people died in Muse in 2021 as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, so the residents had a very bad experience,” a water pipe salesman told AFP.

The tests carried out by the Burmese authorities on incoming travelers are unreliable, he said. “If they had checked properly and carefully, we would not have had to be afraid,” he criticizes, however, acknowledging the importance of the opening for the revival of local trade.

“I hope the economy recovers and goes back to how it used to be,” said Soe Soe Aye, who once worked in a garment factory in China.

At the night market in Ruili, tourists and residents feast on fried pancakes and meat kebabs. Zhang, the owner of a Thai barbecue and hot pot stand, says the business has picked up since the sanitary restrictions were lifted.

But other shopkeepers believe the shortage of Burmese visitors is still acute and are looking forward to the resumption of foot traffic between the two countries.

Nevertheless, the lifting of Chinese restrictions was received with great relief.

“There was very little time between when we thought things might reopen and when they actually did,” Zhang admits. “I have the impression that happiness came very quickly.”

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