China has announced the biggest easing of restrictions on international passengers since closing its borders in March 2020 to contain the pandemic. State broadcaster CCTV reported Tuesday that the State Council, the country’s largest executive body, has updated its coronavirus prevention and control protocol with the release of new guidelines, including reducing post-entry quarantine to 14 to seven days . The measure, although severe compared to the reopening most of its neighbors in the region have been experiencing for months, has been taken as a glimmer of hope by the international community living in the Asian giant as it marks progress towards an easing of the ‘zero lockdown’ -Covid policy imposed by the authorities since the outbreak of the health crisis.
According to text released this Tuesday by the State Council, China will require all foreigners to self-quarantine at one of its central facilities for seven days — paid for by the traveler — in addition to a one-time three-day health surveillance due to you home (what health officials call “7+3”). So far, isolation has been at least 14 days in a hotel and seven at home, reaching a total of 28 days in some cities.
The European Union Chamber of Commerce in China has taken the news positively but remains cautious, waiting to see if local governments really adjust their quarantine requirements. Beijing, for example, had already officially reduced the isolation period, but this meant no change in practice, as international flights to the Chinese capital are being diverted to nearby Tianjin, where the quarantine will last for 14 days.
China is the only major economy in the world still applying a strict zero-tolerance policy to the coronavirus, which involves massive PCR campaigns wherever cases are detected, isolating patients in centralized facilities, shutting down tourism entirely and the restriction of international flights. However, this Tuesday it was reported that more lax protocols also apply to close contacts of people infected with Covid-19, who can isolate themselves at their place of residence for a week, instead of being taken to a quarantine center as previously designed for this purpose.
This easing comes a day after much confusion was created among Beijing residents after the release of a local government report announcing that the zero-Covid strategy would remain in place “for five more years”, a mention that it disappeared from all official media shortly thereafter, when it was already flooding Chinese social networks, where messages of dissatisfaction were rife. Although what happened has not been explained and China has shown it is in no rush to coexist with the virus, some analysts believe it could be a typo as the full text refers to economic policy for the next five years.
Since the outbreaks in Shanghai and Beijing were declared under control (this Tuesday marks the first day since late February that neither city has recorded new cases), the government has sent signals that border controls could be eased for the coming year , following the conclusion of the 20th Congress of the Communist Party, which will be held in the autumn and at which Xi Jinping is scheduled to be appointed to a third term.
In mid-June, it was announced that a work visa application would no longer require a letter of invitation from a provincial authority, a requirement imposed in 2020 that has made many of the then-stranded professionals unable to return to other countries. In addition, aviation authorities have given assurances that the number of flights will increase this summer. Airlines have suffered tremendous pressure from Chinese authorities as Beijing penalizes those whose flights register positive cases on arrival. This has led to many being suspended for months, depending on the number of infections and relapses. According to the Civil Aviation Administration of China, international flight connections barely surpassed 3 million in 2021, down 97% from 2019’s 139 million trips.
In addition to the prohibitive price of flights (only a one-way ticket from Spain costs several thousand euros) and quarantines, another obstacle for travelers is that if there is a direct connection between the country and China, you cannot go with them travel with a stopover. Chinese carriers Hainan Airlines and AirChina this month announced the resumption of their direct flights between China and Spain, which have been paralyzed for months and severely hampered links between the two nations, while Spain’s Iberia also has permission from Chinese aviation authorities to resume them to include the routes connecting Shanghai and Hangzhou to Madrid.
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