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China Lifts Quarantine Requirements for Inbound Travelers
China will be modifying its immigration policies and measures, including the resumption of issuing passports for Chinese mainland residents and ordinary visas and residence permits for foreign nationals, as well as offering a tourist visa exemption for short-term travelers, following the downgrade of COVID-19 to a Class B infectious disease and the discontinuation of centralized quarantine for incoming travelers. These changes will take effect on January 8, 2023.
China has announced that it will be easing some of its travel restrictions, a move that has been anticipated by business groups. As of January 8, 2023, China will no longer require nucleic acid tests or centralized quarantine for all incoming travelers, and restrictions on international passenger flights will be lifted. These changes come after the National Health Commission declared that COVID-19 will now be referred to as a “novel coronavirus infection” and will be subject to the prevention and control measures of a Class B infectious disease, rather than the stricter measures previously used for a Class A infectious disease.
Moreover, COVID-19 infections will no longer be included in the administration of quarantinable infectious diseases as stipulated in the Border Health and Quarantine Law of the People’s Republic of China.
Another circular released by the NHC on the same day, the Overall Plan for Implementing Class B Infectious Disease Management for COVID-19 Infections (the Overall Plan), further clarifies that starting January 8, 2023, China will:
- No longer impose quarantine measures on COVID-19 infections;
- No longer identify close contacts of COVID-19 infections;
- No longer delineate high and low-risk areas;
- Provide classified treatment for COVID-19 patients and adjust medical insurance policies;
- Adjust PCR tests to voluntary testing;
- Adjust the frequency and content of epidemic information release; and
- Take NO quarantinable infectious disease control measures against entry persons and goods.
To be more specific, the Overall Plan mentions that China will “improve management of personnel exchanges between China and foreign countries” and implement the following measures:
- Inbound travelers to China will no longer need to apply for a health code from Chinese embassies or consulates, though a negative nucleic acid test from the last 48 hours will still be required.
- Nucleic acid tests and centralized quarantine for all inbound travelers will be canceled. If the health declaration is normal and the customs port routine quarantine check is normal, they can be released into the community without further requirements.
- Measures to control the number of international passenger flights, including the “five-one” policy (in which every foreign airline was required to maintain only one air route to China and operate no more than one flight a week) and the passenger load factor limit, will be lifted. Nevertheless, airlines will still be required to prevent disease on board, and passengers shall be required to wear masks when flying.
- China will further optimize arrangements for foreigners returning to China for work resumption, business, study, family visits, and reunions, and provide visa facilities accordingly.
- The entry and exit of passenger transport by water and land ports will be gradually resumed.
- China will resume outbound tourism in an orderly manner in light of the international epidemic situation and the service support capacity of all sectors.
How to understand the changes?
The measures introduced above mean that some of China’s most stringent travel restrictions will finally be removed—the onerous nucleic acid test requirements and the lengthy centralized quarantine policy have long been a burden and deterrent for inbound travelers.
However, given that no specific visa policy is introduced for inbound travelers and no clear timeline is provided for the resumption of outbound tourism in the Overall Plan, the comparatively free flow of people between China and the rest of the world is yet to be seen.
That said, with China endeavoring to pivot to “living with COVID” and China’s top leaders starting to put more emphasis on economic growth once again, as revealed by the readout of the Central Economic Work Conference, it won’t be long for China to completely reopens its borders.
Almost three years after the first COVID-19 case was reported, China has taken decisive steps toward “living with the virus”. On December 7, 2022, the National Health Commission released a set of 10 measures that effectively abolished China’s zero-COVID strategy, removing requirements such as mandatory centralized quarantine, compulsory testing, and sweeping lockdowns.
This sudden pivot in COVID-19 policy has been welcomed by many businesses that have struggled under almost three years of strict lockdowns and travel restrictions, which have slowed economic growth.