Despite Covid-19, China expects 1 million passenger trips on new Laos rail link

A train is ready on the station during the handover ceremony of the high-speed rail project linking the Chinese southwestern city of Kunming with Vientiane, in Vientiane, Laos, on Dec 3, 2021.
PHOTO: Reuters

BEIJING - China expects more than one million passenger trips to be made on a newly opened high-speed rail link to Laos during the peak Lunar New Year travel season early next year, despite Covid-19 travel restrictions.

Since its opening on Dec 3, more than 300,000 passengers have travelled on the China side of the rail line, Chinese state media reported on Thursday (Dec 16).

Laos said this week it would reopen for tourists on Jan 1. People living in five Laotian provinces along the Laos-China railway are to receive Covid-19 booster shots before the reopening to tourism.

It is unclear how busy the line will be around the Lunar New Year, which begins on Feb 1. Permission from the Laotian government is needed prior to entry. Travellers also face lengthy spells of quarantine on both the Chinese and Laotian sides.

Cargo transport has already begun. More than 100 million yuan (S$21 million) of goods have been carried on the line between China and Laos as of Wednesday, according to Chinese state media.

China will double the number of cargo trains on the line during nearly six weeks around the Lunar New Year, Chinese state media reported.

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The $6 billion railway, which links the southwestern Chinese city of Kunming to the Laotian capital of Vientiane, is an important milestone in China's ambitious "Belt and Road" network of trade and infrastructure links championed by President Xi Jinping.

China, which holds a 70 per cent stake in the joint-venture project, hopes the 1,000-km (621.37-mile) line will eventually be extended through Thailand to Malaysia and Singapore.

Economists have warned the project, launched in 2015, could make it hard for Laos, one of Asia's poorest nations, to repay external debt, much of it owed to China.

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