People in China reacted with joy and rushed to plan trips abroad on Tuesday after Beijing announced it would scrap mandatory Covid quarantine on overseas arrivals, ending nearly three years of self-imposed isolation.
In a quick move late Monday, China said inbound travelers would no longer need to quarantine from Jan. 8 as it further eases tough virus controls that had torpedoed the economy and sparked nationwide protests.
Infections have surged across the country as key pillars of containment policies have been dismantled, while authorities conceded it is “impossible” to track the outbreak and halted much-maligned daily case counts.
Still, many Chinese were jubilant upon learning of the end of restrictions that have largely sealed the country from the world since March 2020.
“I felt that the epidemic was finally over… The travel plans I made three years ago may now become a reality,” said Beijing clerk Fan Chengcheng, 27.
A Shanghai resident, surnamed Chen, said it “felt like someone pushed the button to end the movie,” adding that her parents in the UK could visit more easily.
“China is finally getting back to normal,” she told AFP news agency.
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Another Shanghai local, surnamed Du, said faster reopening could help the country achieve so-called herd immunity faster, adding that there was “no way to avoid the virus” in the eastern megacity.
Online searches for international flights surged in the news, with travel platform Tongcheng seeing an 850 percent increase in searches and a 10-fold increase in visa requests, according to state media reports.
Rival platform Trip.com Group said searches for popular overseas travel destinations increased 10-fold year on year within half an hour of the announcement – with users particularly interested in Macau, Hong Kong, Japan, Thailand and South Korea.
However, some may face hurdles going abroad as Japan says it would require Covid tests on arrival for travelers from mainland China from Friday.
Rising cases in China, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said, “raised growing concern in Japan”.
Beijing’s foreign ministry on Tuesday said countries should maintain “scientific and reasonable” disease controls that “should not interfere with normal staff exchanges.”
The Chinese announcement has effectively lowered the curtain on a zero-Covid regime of mass testing, lockdowns and lengthy quarantines that has disrupted supply chains and shattered business ties with the world’s second-largest economy.
“The overwhelming prospect is just a relief,” said Tom Simpson, executive director for China at the China-Britain Business Council.
“It ends three years of very significant disruption.”
A surge in international trade missions is now expected over the next year, he told AFP, although full business resumption is likely to come “gradually” as airlines slowly bring more flights online and companies fine-tune their China strategies for 2023.
The EU Chamber of Commerce in China also welcomed a move that would “potentially boost business confidence” and allow more freedom for managers and workers to travel.
All passengers arriving in China must undergo mandatory centralized quarantine since March 2020. This shortened from three weeks to one week in June and to five days last month.
The end of this rule in January will also result in Covid-19 being downgraded from Class A to a Class B infectious disease, allowing authorities to introduce looser controls.
On Tuesday, Chinese immigration authorities announced the phased resumption of passport issuance for “tourism” or “visiting friends overseas” from Jan. 8 – suspended due to the pandemic.
And Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said China will “optimize” arrangements for foreigners who want to return to work, do business, study abroad or visit relatives.
However, some entry restrictions remain in place as China continues to largely suspend issuing visas to foreign tourists and students.
Beijing said on Tuesday it will “continue to adjust its visa policy for foreigners visiting China in a scientific and dynamic manner according to the situation of the epidemic.”
ChinaThe government and state media have tried to paint a picture of measured calm as Covid sweeps across the country.
But officials in several cities said hundreds of thousands of people are estimated to have been infected in recent weeks.
According to independent reporting by AFP and other media, hospitals and crematoria are overcrowded.
The government announced last week that it would effectively stop recording the number of people dying from Covid, while the National Health Commission said on Saturday it would no longer publish daily case counts – widely criticized as inaccurate.
However, some studies have predicted that around a million people could die from Covid in China over the next few months.
The winter surge comes ahead of next month’s big bank holiday, when hundreds of millions are expected to travel to meet up with loved ones.
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