China to end Covid restrictions and quarantine for international travelers

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China will lift quarantine requirements for all passengers arriving from outside the country’s borders from Jan. 8, 2023, its top health agency said Monday.

The country will also lift all other restrictive Covid measures for travelers, including quarantines for positive patients and contact tracing.

Authorities said the new guideline is part of a new way China intends to handle Covid. China downgraded Covid management to a less severe “Class B disease” in the same category as less severe diseases such as dengue fever. China will also refer to Covid as “infection” instead of “pneumonia”. The change is “more in line with the current characteristics and level of danger of this disease,” the National Health Commission said in a statement.

“The less deadly Omicron variant has become the dominant strain of SARS-Cov-2 and only a very small number of cases progressed to pneumonia,” NHC said in a statement Monday.

The existing quarantine policy for international arrivals in China was first introduced in 2020 and has changed over the past few years. The latest directive, which ends Jan. 8, required people arriving from outside mainland China and Macao to go through five days of hotel quarantine and three days of self-isolation at home.

Travelers are still required to take a Covid test before arriving in China, but passengers are no longer required to submit their results to a Chinese embassy or consulate and apply for a code. From January 8th, travelers will be able to test and view the result before boarding the plane.

The NHC also pledged to resume overseas tourism for Chinese citizens in an orderly manner, depending on the international Covid situation and the capacity of various domestic services.

China has gradually eased its restrictions after closing its borders to almost all travelers in March 2020 as the pandemic began to spread to the rest of the world.

After nearly three years of lockdowns, quarantines and mass testing, China abruptly abandoned its zero-Covid policy this month following nationwide protests at its heavy economic and social toll.

At the same time, China is grappling with an unprecedented wave of infections that has put a strain on its hospitals and emptied pharmacy shelves. Since the world’s second largest economy drastically eased its Covid restrictions, there has been no clear data on the extent of the spread of the virus nationally. But several cities and provinces have said they are seeing tens of thousands of new cases a day.

The abrupt change in policy has led to panic buying of fever and cold medicines, causing widespread shortages both in pharmacies and on online shopping platforms. Long lines outside fever clinics and infirmaries overflowing with patients in the capital Beijing and elsewhere in the country have become routine.

China’s leaders have recently signaled that they will shift the focus back to growth next year and have bet on easing pandemic restrictions to boost the economy.

According to the NHC statement, China is currently focusing on providing sufficient medical resources. Large and medium-sized cities must quickly convert their “fangcang”, makeshift centralized Covid quarantine facilities, into designated hospitals with sufficient healthcare staff, NHC added.

NHC also did not completely rule out the possibility of temporary and local confinement measures going forward.

“In dealing with the outbreaks, we should pay special attention to the global real-time assessment of the intensity of the outbreak – the pressure on the health system and the general situation of society – and take appropriate legislative measures to flexibly restrict people’s group activities and movements, so as to flexibly limit the.” to flatten the curve,” the statement said, adding that care homes may close again if the outbreak is severe.

– Selina Wang, Nectar Gan and Laura from CNN He contributed to this report

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