Some have booked tickets in time for China’s most important holiday, after the withdrawal of quarantine requirements for inbound travellers by Chinese authorities on Sunday.
Many have not seen their parents and grandparents since 2019.
Others were unable to travel home to mourn the death of loved ones as fares soared to Dh30,000 for a one-way air ticket and domestic quarantine restrictions stretched to almost a month during the coronavirus pandemic.
Chinese travellers will arrive in Dubai this week, with residents thrilled to greet wives and children in time for the festivities.
Airfares remain high. with a one-way ticket costing Dh4,000, compared to Dh3,000 both ways before the pandemic.
Excited to go home after four years
Dubai resident Zhong Ling Li last saw her parents in 2019 when she visited her hometown Suizhou, north of Wuhan, where the pandemic started.
Ms Zhong will travel home on Friday and has made plans to take her parents to visit family in other Chinese cities.
They will be among millions travelling during the 40-day Lunar New Year period, which begins on January 22.
It will be the first holiday since 2020 without domestic Covid-19 travel restrictions and Chinese officials expect two billion passenger trips during the festive period.
“I’m so excited to see my parents,” said Ms Zhong, 37, who runs a family-owned lighting store in Dragon Mart. “This is the longest time I have not seen them. We are very happy everything has finally opened.
“I was not planning to go back for Chinese New Year but when I heard the rules had changed, I immediately booked my ticket.”
Ms Zhong requires a 48-hour PCR test before her flight to China.
The quarantine requirement for travellers at entry points such as Shanghai, and for a second quarantine in their home city, have been withdrawn.
“My family is from the countryside,” said Ms Zhong. “My parents are farmers, they are old but their bodies are strong.
“They caught Covid and recovered quickly. We have all had Covid and I don’t worry about it now.”
Health experts have warned the Covid-19 outbreak could worsen, with the surge in travel. But like others worldwide after years of isolation, Ms Zhong is anxious about making the journey.
“It has been a challenging year for everyone,” she said.
“Business has been slow so it’s been quite difficult. But to see my parents and know they are in good health is my happiest wish.”
Unable to say goodbye
Stringent entry rules to control the spread of Covid-19 prevented many expatriates from returning home to grieve when they lost relatives.
The scrapping of the zero-Covid policy has led to joy.
Jiang Yanying, who lost a close relative during the time when the strict rules were in place, has not seen her parents for more than three years.
She has planned a surprise visit during the March school break, when she will travel with her husband and seven-year-old daughter to Heze, in eastern China’s Shandong Province.
“My auntie passed away in a car accident and I couldn’t travel because of quarantine,” said Ms Jiang, 35, who works in a luxury shop and owns a small cafe in Dubai.
“All your life you feel regret because you wanted to meet to say farewell but you missed it.
“My friend’s mother passed away and she too could not travel to say goodbye. Now when we sing songs and she remembers her mum, she cries.”
Ms Jiang has told her sister about her travel plans but will hide the news from her parents.
“I want it to be a surprise,” she said.
“My husband has not seen his family for four years. We are so excited as we prepare to go home. My daughter talks a lot now compared to our last visit — for grandparents it will be such a difference to see.”
Her neighbour, Qiuyun Wei, will take her four children to visit their grandparents in Nanjing during the July-August summer break.
“It has been a tough time,” she said.
“I was always worried because I’m a single child.
“I have relatives in Nanjing but I was worried if my parents needed help and I could not reach them in time.”
A New Year with real meaning
Dr Huafei Li’s family are counting down to being together for New Year celebrations when his wife and three sons arrive in Dubai on Thursday.
“Chinese New Year means being united with the family and there is a real meaning this time,” said Dr Li, 45, who practises acupuncture in Dubai.
“It’s important to sit and eat together as we celebrate the connection between the end of the previous year and the beginning of the next year.”
His wife and sons will visit Dubai for the first time in three years.
The family count themselves lucky, as Dr Li was able to travel to Chengdu in August and September.
“Tickets in August were Dh22,000 for one-way Dubai to China,” he said.
“In China, I quarantined for seven days in a hotel and three days at home.
“But now China is open and we are all very, very happy.”
January is a special month
It is a time of celebration for the Can Cai's family, who will spend New Year together after three years.
The family will visit Expo City on Saturday with thousands of Chinese citizens for a special grand parade.
“We will walk around to see the floats and I want to show all this to my son,” said Mr Can, 36, an assistant at a Dubai law firm.
The family are from Chengdu, famous for its giant pandas. Mr Can's friends plan to wear panda costumes for the parade to highlight their home province.
Mr Can is also preparing for his son’s birthday party next week.
His mother Ying Luo and son Tiancheng Cai arrived from Chengdu in August, ending a two-year period when the family were apart.
“It will be so good to celebrate his birthday together,” said Mr Can.
“When I met them at the airport, my son was so shy. Then I hugged him and it was all fine. We really missed each other.”