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China to scrap quarantine for international travelers in essential end of zero Covid

Passenger planes stand on the tarmac at Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport on November 4, 2022, before China lifted Covid-related travel restrictions.

Future Publishing | Future Publishing | Getty Images

BEIJING — China announced late Monday that travelers will no longer be required to quarantine upon arrival to the mainland from Jan. 8.

The impending postponement follows an abrupt relaxation of domestic Covid controls this month. The changes end most of the most restrictive measures China had imposed as part of its zero-Covid policy for almost three years.

Since March 2020, travelers to the mainland must quarantine, usually in a designated hotel and for 14 days. That isolation period later extended to 21 days or more for some travelers before China began reducing quarantine times this summer.

The current policy requires five days of quarantine at a central facility, followed by three days at home.

China’s National Health Commission also said that from Jan. 8, authorities would stop tracing close contacts of Covid patients, stop designating Covid risk areas and lift Covid measures that had slowed imports of goods.

The commission said travelers to China would only need to show a negative virus test within the last 48 hours and would no longer need to apply for a unique health code. During the flight, passengers would still have to wear a face mask, the announcement said.

China’s economy has slowed this year amid tight Covid controls that locked down Shanghai and other parts of the country for about two months. Beijing suddenly ended many of the restrictions earlier this month. Meanwhile, local Covid infections were on the rise, putting pressure on an already overburdened public health system.

More flights needed

The quarantine requirement for incoming flights and other Covid-related measures have made it difficult for foreign companies in China to hire employees, managers and factory technicians.

“Just because the borders are open doesn’t mean travel will recover immediately,” said Michael Hart, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in China, last week.

He pointed out that the number of available flights to and from China needs to recover. “I don’t think US airlines or international airlines are going to go back to normal immediately because these planes are already flying other routes,” Hart said. “It may be different with Chinese airlines because the planes just sit on the tarmac and do nothing.”

Read more about China from CNBC Pro

In 2019, there were 670 million international trips in and out of the country, according to China. In 2021, the number had dropped to 128 million, according to the National Immigration Service.

China said Monday it will improve visa regulations for foreigners to enter the country to resume work, business, study, visit relatives and other gatherings.

The ability of Chinese citizens to travel overseas will be “resumed in an orderly manner,” the announcement said in Chinese, according to a CNBC translation.

During the pandemic, Beijing barred Chinese citizens from obtaining passports or leaving the country unless they had a clear, typically business, purpose.

Previously, Chinese tourists and their overseas spending — particularly on luxury goods — was a significant source of revenue for businesses in many international tourist spots.

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