China to end Covid restrictions, quarantine for international travelers

New York

China’s top health authority announced on Monday that the country will lift quarantine requirements for all incoming travelers from abroad starting Jan. 8, 2023.

The country will also lift all other restrictive Covid measures for travellers, including quarantine and contact tracing for positive patients.

Authorities say the new policy is part of a new way China plans to manage the coronavirus. China has downgraded Covid management to a less stringent “category B disease,” the same category as less serious illnesses such as dengue fever. China will also refer to Covid as an “infection” rather than “pneumonia”. The National Health Commission said in a statement that the change was “better in line with the current characteristics and risk level of the disease.”

“The less lethal Omicron variant has become the dominant strain of SARS-Cov-2, with only a very small number of cases developing pneumonia,” the NHC said in a statement on Monday.

The current quarantine policy for international arrivals was first introduced in 2020 and has been revised over the past few years. The latest policy, which ends Jan. 8, requires people from outside mainland China and Macau to undergo a five-day quarantine in hotels and three days of self-quarantine at home.

Passengers will still have to undergo a Covid test before arriving in China, but travelers will no longer need to submit test results to a Chinese embassy or consulate and apply for a code. Beginning Jan. 8, travelers can take the test and present the results before boarding the plane.

The National Health Commission also promised to orderly resume outbound travel by Chinese citizens based on the international epidemic situation and various domestic service capabilities.

China closed its borders to nearly all travelers in March 2020 when the pandemic began to spread in other parts of the world, and has since gradually eased restrictions.

China abruptly dropped its zero-coronavirus policy this month after nearly three years of lockdowns, quarantines and mass testing, amid nationwide protests that have hit its economy and society hard.

Meanwhile, China is dealing with an unprecedented wave of infections that has severely overwhelmed hospitals and left pharmacy shelves empty. As the world’s second-largest economy has significantly eased coronavirus restrictions, there is no clear data yet on the extent of the virus’ spread at the national level. But some cities and provinces say they are seeing tens of thousands of new cases every day.

The sudden policy change sparked a rush for fever and cold medicines, leading to widespread shortages at pharmacies and online shopping platforms. Fever clinics and long lines outside hospital wards have become routine in the capital, Beijing, and elsewhere in China.

China’s top leaders recently said they would refocus on growth next year and bet on easing pandemic restrictions to boost the economy.

According to a statement from the National Health Commission, China’s current focus is on preparing sufficient medical resources. The National Health Commission added that large and medium-sized cities need to quickly transform temporary centralized Covid-quarantine facilities “square cabins” into designated hospitals with sufficient health personnel.

The NHC also did not completely rule out the possibility of temporary and localized restrictions in the future.

“If we manage outbreaks, we should pay special attention to real-time global assessments of the intensity of the outbreak – the strain on health systems and the general state of society – and take appropriate legal measures to restrict the movement and movement of people in a flexible manner. ways to flatten the curve,” it said in the statement, adding that if the outbreak became severe, lockdowns could be reimposed in nursing homes.

– CNN’s Selina Wang, Nectar Gan and Laura He contributed to this report

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