China to scrap Covid quarantine rules for inbound travellers

Health authorities have downgraded disease to less strict category after widespread protests

The Beijing Daxing International Airport in China. EPA.
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China will stop requiring inbound travellers to go into quarantine starting from next year, the National Health Commission said on Monday.

The move is a major step towards easing restrictions on its borders, which have been mainly shut since 2020.

China's management of Covid-19 will also be downgraded to the less strict Category B from the current top-level Category A, the health authority said, as the disease has become less virulent and will gradually evolve into a common respiratory infection.

Three years of zero tolerance, from closed borders to frequent lockdowns, have battered China's economy, leading to last month's biggest show of public discontent since President Xi Jinping took power in 2012.

But China made an abrupt policy retreat this month, dropping nearly all of its domestic Covid curbs in a move that has left hospitals across the country trying to cope with a nationwide wave of infections.

Strict requirements on inbound travellers had remained in place, including five days of mandatory quarantine at a government-supervised centre and three more of isolation at home.

That restriction and one on the number of passengers on international flights will be removed from January 8.

But travellers entering China will still have to undergo PCR testing 48 hours before departure, the health authority said.

Arrangements for foreigners to travel to China, such as for work and business, will be improved and the necessary visas will also be enabled, the authority said.

People from China's two biggest cities; Beijing and Shanghai, have returned to work as the country's health workers continue to battle a surge in Covid-19, with millions of new cases. EPA.

But passenger entry and exit at sea and land ports will gradually resume, while the outbound travel of Chinese nationals will be restored "in an orderly manner", it said.

Since January 2020, China had classified Covid-19 as a Category B infectious disease but managed it under Category A protocols that also cover diseases such as bubonic plague and cholera, giving local authorities the power to put patients and their close contacts into quarantine and lock down regions.

While China downgrades its management of the coronavirus, the National Health Commission said epidemic prevention and control protocols at institutions such as elderly care centres will be strengthened.

If an outbreak becomes severe, the institution will adopt "closed management" to prevent the spread of infections, the authority said.

China will also further increase the vaccination rate among the elderly and promote second doses among people at high risk of severe illness.

China is the last major country to move towards treating Covid as endemic.

Its containment measures had slowed the $17 trillion economy to its lowest growth rate in nearly half a century, disrupting global supply and trade.

Updated: December 27, 2022, 12:18 AM