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China announces Covid policy changes for international travelers

China announces Covid policy changes for international travelers

China will drop quarantine requirements for all passengers arriving from outside of the country’s borders starting on Jan 8, 2023, its top health authority announced Monday (Dec 26). The country will also scrap all other restrictive Covid measures for travelers, including quarantines for positive patients and contact tracing.

China will scrap quarantine for travellers from Jan 8, officials said, marking the last major shift from the country's zero-Covid policy.

After almost three years of closed borders, this will reopen the country to those with work and study visas, or seeking to visit family. But it comes as China struggles with the virus's ferocious spread in the wake of restrictions being lifted.

Reports says hospitals are overwhelmed and elderly people are dying. The true toll – daily case counts and deaths – is currently unknown because officials have stopped releasing Covid data.

Beijing had reported about 4,000 new Covid infections each day last week and few deaths. On Sunday it said it would stop publishing case numbers altogether.

China is the last major economy in the world to move to "living with Covid" after three years of lockdowns, closed borders and mandatory quarantine for Covid cases and contacts.

The so-called zero-Covid approach battered the economy and made citizens weary of restrictions and repeated tests.

Resentment against the policy exploded into rare public protests against President Xi Jinping in November, which led to authorities dropping Covid rules just a few weeks later.

Closed borders remain the last major restriction. Since March 2020, anyone entering China had to undergo mandatory quarantine at a state facility – for up to three weeks at a time. That was recently reduced to five days.

But on Monday the National Health Commission announced that Covid would be formally downgraded to a Class B infectious disease on Jan 8.

That meant quarantine would be axed – although incoming travellers will still need to take a PCR test – and a cap on the daily number of flights allowed into China would also be scrapped.

Authorities said they would also "optimise" visa arrangements for foreigners wishing to come to China for work and study, as well as family visits and reunions.

It's unclear if that includes tourist visas, but officials said a pilot programme would begin for international cruise ships.

The new rules have been welcomed by many Chinese who will now be able to travel overseas again. The country's top online travel agencies reported a spike in traffic within hours of the announcement.

But many have also expressed anger over the sudden freedom after years of controls. Many have also expressed concern online about borders reopening as Covid cases peak in China.