China on Monday announced that travelers from overseas would now not be required to enter quarantine upon arrival, in certainly one of the country’s most important steps toward reopening because the coronavirus pandemic began.
From Jan. 8, incoming travelers can be required to point out only a negative polymerase chain response, or P.C.R., test inside 48 hours before departure, China’s National Health Commission said. Limitations on the variety of incoming flights will even 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 after they were allowed back in months later, it was generally just for business or family reunions.
Even some Chinese nationals were unable to return home initially, and travelers allowed to enter were required to undergo extensive health screening and quarantine at their very own expense — sometimes for so long as two months.
The announcement on Monday was the newest reversal in China’s “zero Covid” approach to the virus, which for years saw Beijing seek to eliminate infections. However the policy, which involved harsh and prolonged lockdowns of tons of of thousands and thousands of individuals, crushed the economy and stirred public discontent.
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The Communist Party forged aside restrictive “zero Covid” policy, which set off mass protests that were a rare challenge to the Communist leadership.
In November, after a fireplace led to the deaths of 10 people within the Xinjiang region, with many individuals suspecting that a Covid lockdown had hampered rescue efforts, protests erupted across the country. It was certainly one of the boldest and most widespread outbreaks of dissent in a long time. Inside days, the federal government began loosening restrictions.
The easing of travel restrictions “mainly signals the ultimate end of zero Covid,” said Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health on the Recent York-based Council on Foreign Relations. Though China had relaxed a lot of its zero-Covid domestic policies this month — scrapping regular mandatory tests for urban residents and allowing home quarantine for the infected, for instance — it had held on to its international limitations.
The latest measures don’t amount to China’s throwing open its borders, nevertheless. Many details remained unclear. The federal government has not said when it would resume issuing tourist visas — all such visas that were valid at the beginning of the pandemic have been canceled. Officials said that they might “further optimize” the power of foreigners to use for visas for business, study or family reunions, without offering specifics.
Chinese officials also didn’t say what number of flights can be allowed to enter the country. In November, the variety of international flights to China was 6 percent of what it was in 2019, according to the flight tracker VariFlight.
China will even allow its residents to resume traveling abroad for leisure in an “orderly” fashion, officials said. Throughout the pandemic, the federal government stopped issuing or renewing Chinese nationals’ passports except in limited circumstances, and in May it said it might “strictly restrict nonessential exit activities.”
The top to the international Covid quarantine was a part of a broader announcement on Monday that China would downgrade its classification of the coronavirus. Previously, the federal government treated Covid-19 as a Category A infectious disease, on par with cholera or the bubonic plague. Under that categorization, officials needed to put in place extensive restrictions to manage the spread, including lockdowns and quarantines. Going forward, Covid can be treated as a Category B disease, which incorporates AIDS and bird flu.
That change will further formalize China’s shift away from zero Covid domestically, Dr. Huang said. While the sooner easing of restrictions had left local officials some leeway to make a decision how briskly to reopen, Beijing was now signaling to officials nationwide that they need to prioritize reviving the economy over disease control, he said.
It was unclear, nevertheless, just how soon international travelers can be willing to go to China, and the way much the economy would profit from it. The recent loosening of restrictions has led to an explosion in infections. Many older Chinese are usually not vaccinated or have received only two shots. The variety of infections and deaths can also be unclear, as mass testing within the country has ended and China counts Covid deaths in a different way from most of the remaining of the world. But reports of overwhelmed hospitals and funeral homes are widespread.
At a news conference on Sunday, an official in Zhejiang Province, home to about 5 percent of China’s population, estimated that there have been a couple of million latest Covid cases a day there.
Dr. Huang said that while China had pursued zero Covid for too long, he was now frightened that policymakers had swung too quickly in the other way.
“I’m afraid the mitigation strategy that’s imagined to be specializing in the elderly and the vulnerable can be relegated to the back burner,” he said.
The speed, and shock, of China’s Covid pivot was reflected on its social media platforms, where users greeted the news of the rollback on Monday with a mixture of disbelief and elation. Some celebrated the proven fact that Chinese students studying overseas would give you the chance to return more easily to go to their families. Within the minutes after the announcement, Chinese news media reported, searches for international plane tickets on one travel platform soared.
Others said, nevertheless, that they might not bring themselves to be completely satisfied concerning the changes, given the dimensions of China’s outbreak and deaths. Others noted that lower than one month earlier, huge swaths of cities, including Beijing, had been under lockdown.
Claire Fu and Amy Chang Chien contributed reporting.