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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

China to end quarantines for inbound travelers as ‘COVID-19 Zero’ dismantled

An epidemic control worker wears PPE gear as he sanitizes a pedestrian shopping area on Dec. 8 in Beijing.   (Kevin Frayer/HODELETE60/TNS)
The Washington Post

By Washington Post

China will no longer subject inbound travelers to quarantine in early January, putting the country on track to emerge from three years of self-imposed global isolation under a COVID-19 Zero policy that battered the economy and stoked historic public discontent.

As of Jan. 8, people arriving in China will no longer be quarantined, though they will be required to obtain negative COVID-19 test results within 48 hours of departure, according to a statement from the National Health Commission. That compares with the current requirement of eight days isolation, with five days at a designated quarantine hotel or central facility followed by three days at home.

The country has also downgraded the management of COVID-19 from the highest level to the second highest, effectively removing the legal justification for aggressive COVID-19 Zero restrictions.

Since late November, when discontent with harsh COVID-19 Zero rules boiled over and sparked protests in cities across the nation, officials have rapidly dismantled many of their harshest pandemic measures. The speed of change has left health experts puzzled and residents scrambling to adjust to a new way of life that’s seen infections explode and made the border curbs – put in place to keep the virus out of China – increasingly irrelevant.

The Health Commission also said China will enhance the treatment of severe patients by boosting the supply of life-saving medical devices, such as ventilators, and the capacity of intensive care units. It will also repurpose quarantine facilities into hospitals for treating COVID-19 patients.

“The new coronavirus will linger in nature for a long time to come,” according to the statement. “It has become much less virulent than before and the disease it causes will gradually turn into a common respiratory disease.”

The world’s second-largest economy has been largely cut off since early 2020, when China first imposed a blanket ban on overseas travelers. While it later lifted the outright restriction, it kept in place an intricate web of testing and bureaucratic requirements around international flights that discouraged most travelers and effectively kept it sealed off from the world.

Easier travel into and out of China is likely to benefit the many countries across the globe that rely on Chinese tourists. And the recent loosening of testing and isolation requirements for travel within China may also boost domestic tourism revenue, which declined 26% over the week-long National Day holiday in October, compared with the same period last year.

China’s abrupt U-turn on COVID-19 Zero has upended economists’ and investors’ expectations, complicating estimates for how its policies will affect economic growth.

While there’s likely to be substantial short-term headwinds as cases increase and residents frequently stay at home, disrupting a raft of activities, the policy shift paves the way for a fuller recovery once the first major wave of infections passes. China has pledged to revive consumption and support the private sector in 2023, and economists have said signals are clear that the focus is on boosting gross domestic product, with policy makers likely to target growth of 5% or higher.