China has announced that overseas travellers arriving in the country will no longer be required to quarantine, but will still be required to show a negative COVID PCR test taken at least 48 hours before departure. The new rules will come into effect on 8 January. Chinese health officials said limitations on incoming flights will also be relaxed.
China has maintained probably the world’s most restrictive COVID measures since 2020 that have virtually cut off the country to international travellers as well as its own residents who in some cases were trapped overseas. Its recent moves to relax COVID restrictions comes after days of protests by citizens tired of constant testing, lockdowns and travel restrictions.
The country is also facing international questions over its official data on COVID infections and deaths with some regions reporting higher mortality rates that official central government figures.
The government said it will facilitate visa applications for foreigners who need to travel to China for everything from businesses and studies to family reunions, while outbound tourism, which dwindled to almost nothing during the pandemic, will resume in an “orderly fashion”.
Hong Kong too announced recently it planned to fully reopen its border with the mainland. Chief Executive John Lee said the first stage of the step-by-step reopening would begin as early as mid-January, he pledged in an opinion piece to strike the right balance between easing travel curbs along the border and reviving the local economy, which had struggled to overcome the impact of almost three years of anti-epidemic restrictions.
Hong Kong health officials also cautioned that when the mainland border is full opened, it could spark a host of new COVID cases in the city and warned the city needs to prepare medical facilities for a surge in COVID cases.
Dr Xie Xingquan, the International Air Transport Association’s regional vice president for North Asia, issued the following statement in response to the Chinese government’s announcement on border reopening:
“The announcement by the Chinese government, including the removal of quarantine for arriving international travelers and lifting of flight restrictions, is a positive step forward and a welcome development. What is needed next is to remove the need for pre-departure COVID-19 testing. It is also crucial for the entire aviation value chain in China to be well prepared and adequately resourced to handle the expected surge of air travelers, so as to avoid the travel disruptions and problems seen elsewhere in the world when borders reopened.
“China’s zero-COVID approach so far has held back the recovery of air travel in the Asia Pacific region compared to other parts of the world. The region is expected to reach 44 percent of 2019 passenger traffic by the year-end. In contrast, other major regions should hit 80-90 percent of 2019 levels.
“In our industry outlook released in early December, we are anticipating 2023 passenger traffic in the Asia-Pacific region to reach 70 percent of 2019 levels. The outlook had assumed a progressive easing of restrictions in China over the second half of 2023. China’s reopening of her borders in January will have a positive effect on the pace of recovery of the Asia Pacific region.”