These were the chaotic scenes at a Chinese national park as up to 20,000 tourists – many not wearing masks or observing social distancing – crammed in after officials offered free entry.
Both gates of the hugely popular Huangshan National Park in China’s eastern province of Anhui were forced to close after visitor numbers peaked at 20,000 over the weekend.
Incredible footage shows tens of thousands queuing shoulder to shoulder and back to front, with most wearing surgical masks but many choosing not to cover their faces.
Despite concerns over COVID-19 transmission, none of the visitors appears to be observing any social distancing guidelines either as droves of tourists clog up the pathways inside the mountainous tourist site as well.
The Huangshan scenic area, also called the Yellow Mountains, usually charges 190 RMB (21 GBP) for entrance, but the fee was waived for Anhui residents in a bid to boost the hard-hit tourism industry amid the coronavirus outbreak.
The national park’s official Weibo account issued a number of statements over the long weekend as China marked Qingming Festival, also known as tomb-sweeping day, on 4th April.
The hotspot, which is a top-rated ‘5A’ tourist site, encouraged tourists to visit other sites nearby when its ticket gates reported 80 percent capacity at 9:22am local time on 4th April.
An hour later, ticket gates closed as the 20,000 capacity was reached and officials began turning tourists away.
The national park also issued an apology to the large crowds who could not enter, saying the flow of visitors was slowed due to health screening requirements.
Each visitor had to present their health status and also undergo temperature tests, while those with symptoms were immediately turned away.
The park, which ferried 5,300 tourists to its ticket gates every hour using 120 shuttle buses, has been criticised for its enticing ‘free entrance’ policy at a time when mass community transmission is still a realistic concern.
Huangshan National Park closed its doors on 25th January as the coronavirus epidemic surged in China.
It began welcoming visitors again on 21st February but reduced its usual 50,000-visitor capacity to just 20,000.
In a statement yesterday (5th April), the park said it would continue to enforce mask-wearing and social distance where possible by increasing its number of volunteers.
In order to avoid tourists gathering in large numbers, it would also improve crowd flow and control, the park said.
Huangshan is one of several dozen scenic areas offering low prices or no-ticket policies to attract visitors.
Between 1st to 14th April, residents of Anhui can visit 31 scenic areas in or around Huangshan free of charge.
The province, which borders COVID-19 epicentre Hubei, has reported 990 cases and just six deaths, according to official records compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Anhui’s last new infection was reported on 27th February.
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