China relaxes COVID curbs for international travelers

Domestic News

Chinese authorities halved the quarantine period for overseas travelers entering China, but have emphasized the decision does not represent a pivot in the nation’s COVID-zero policy.

Passengers at the Beijing Daxing International Airport, on June 3, 2022. CNS Photo via Global Times.

China has cut its required quarantine period for overseas travelers by half, the biggest relaxation of nationwide restrictions since recent COVID outbreaks caused two months of mass lockdowns and other pandemic prevention measures in major hubs Shanghai and Beijing.

The new rules state that international travelers will only need to quarantine at a centralized facility for seven days upon arrival in mainland China, plus an additional three days at home, while being tested throughout, the National Health Commission (NHC) announced on Tuesday.

  • Previously, international travelers in China typically had to spend 14 days in centralized quarantine and seven more days isolated at home, depending on the city of entry and destination within the country.
  • The NHC also said that within China, those who have come into close contact with confirmed COVID-positive cases would only need to spend seven days in centralized quarantine, plus three days of health monitoring at home, compared with previous isolation requirements of at least 14 days.
  • Those who come into continuous contact with arriving travelers and goods, including truck drivers, immigration officials, and healthcare workers, will have to get a PCR test every day.

Officials were quick to state that the policy change did not mean a pivot from COVID zero: Authorities cited that the decision to update the response was based on the current outbreak coming under control, the lack of severity and the shorter incubation period of the Omicron variant, and the success in earlier trial runs carried out in some major cities.

  • The new rules are designed to optimize the country’s prevention and control work, and don’t signal a change in course, Lei Zhenglong, deputy head of the NHC’s Bureau of Disease Prevention and Control, said per Bloomberg.
  • Last week, state-run news Global Times reported that some cities, including Beijing, Nanjing, and Wuhan, shortened the quarantine period for international travelers to seven days in a designated facility, followed by seven days of home isolation.
  • Beijing in early May had reduced its quarantine period for inbound travelers to 10 days (as opposed to 14 days) in centralized quarantine and seven days at home.

The change had mixed receptions: Some investors welcomed the move: Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index swung from a loss to a gain of 0.8%, while the CSI 300 index of Shanghai- and Shenzhen-listed stocks rallied up 1%.

  • The tourism sector in particular recorded a jump, with stocks from rallying 16.54%, Fosun Tourism up 14.39%, and Air China rising 10.06%.
  • But “China cannot open its borders completely due to relatively low vaccination rates,” said Joerg Wuttke, head of the European Chamber of Commerce in China. “This, in conjunction with a slow introduction of mRNA vaccines, means that China may have to maintain a restricted immigration policy beyond the summer of 2023.”

Just one day earlier, state newspaper the Beijing Daily sparked panic in many COVID-weary residents when it allegedly misquoted Communist Party Secretary Cài Qí 蔡奇 as saying the city would keep up pandemic controls for “the next five years.”

  • “Surely it wasn’t a mistake! It’s meant to gauge public opinion!” said one user on Weibo. Another Weibo user said that even if it was a mistake, “at least the higher-ups are now aware of how helpless we all feel and how we detest the current counter-epidemic policies.”

Nadya Yeh