China to drop Covid quarantine for incoming travelers

The travel restrictions had isolated the world’s most populous country for nearly three years

China on Monday announced that travellers from overseas would no longer be required to enter quarantine upon arrival, in one of the country’s most significant steps toward reopening since the coronavirus pandemic began.

From Jan. 8, incoming travellers will be required to show only a negative polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, test within 48 hours before departure, China’s National Health Commission said. Limitations on the number of incoming flights will also be eased.

The travel restrictions had isolated the world’s most populous country for nearly three years. Foreigners were essentially barred from entering China in 2020, and even when they were allowed back months later, it was generally only for business or family reunions.

Even some Chinese nationals were unable to return home initially, and travellers allowed to enter were required to undergo extensive health screening and quarantine at their own expense — sometimes for as long as two months.

The announcement Monday was the latest reversal in China’s “zero COVID” approach to the virus, which for years saw Beijing seek to eliminate infections. But the policy, which involved harsh and prolonged lockdowns of hundreds of millions of people, crushed the economy and stirred public discontent.

In November, after a fire led to the deaths of 10 people in the Xinjiang region, with many people suspecting that a COVID lockdown had hampered rescue efforts, protests erupted across the country. Within days, the government began loosening restrictions.

The easing of travel restrictions “basically signals the final end of zero COVID,” said Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations.

The new measures do not amount to China’s throwing open its borders, however. The government has not said when it will resume issuing tourist visas — all such visas that were valid at the start of the pandemic have been cancelled. Officials said that they would “further optimize” the ability of foreigners to apply for visas for business, study or family reunions, without offering specifics.

Chinese officials also did not say how many flights would be allowed to enter the country. In November, the number of international flights to China was 6% of what it was in 2019, according to flight tracker VariFlight.

China will also allow its citizens to resume travelling abroad for leisure in an “orderly” fashion, officials said.

Source: indianexpress

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