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People outside a shopping centre in Beijing, China. Picture: BLOOMBERG
People outside a shopping centre in Beijing, China. Picture: BLOOMBERG

China has halved quarantine times for inbound travellers, the biggest shift yet in a Covid-19 policy that has left the world’s second-largest economy isolated as it continues to try eliminating the virus.

Travellers will now only need to spend seven days in a quarantine facility, and then monitor their health at home for a further three days, according to a revised government protocol released on Tuesday by China’s National Health Commission. That is down from 14 days hotel quarantine in many parts of China now, and as many as 21 days isolation in the past. 

The change, which still leaves China an outlier in a world that is rapidly learning to live with the virus, comes after Beijing and Shanghai said they had no new locally transmitted Covid-19 infections on Monday, for the first time since February. The success over the highly contagious Omicron variant followed a bruising four-month fight in which millions of residents were locked in their homes, amid exhaustive testing measures and restrictions on daily life that affected every facet of society and the economy. 

Nationwide, China reported just 22 cases on Monday, in stark contrast to other parts of the world that are counting thousands of new infections a day. Beijing remains committed to the Covid-19 Zero policy, which still aims to quash every trace of the virus. 

It is a significant step for China in the right direction. But the change is only one part of the entire strategy. China is still way far from opening up.
Huang Yanzhong of the Council on Foreign Relations

“It is a significant step for China in the right direction,” said Huang Yanzhong, a senior fellow for global health at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations. “But the change is only one part of the entire strategy.

“China is still way far from opening up,” he said, adding that the country still requires negative Covid-19 tests to enter — a measure many other countries dispensed with months ago. 

There is also a complex web of domestic restrictions that make it difficult for Chinese to move around internally. Until those are adjusted, “uncertainties and risks will persist for travels into China, and the effectiveness of the current move will be squeezed”, Huang said. 

Investors used to hearing about tighter internal restrictions in China were buoyed by the news, with stocks rallying. The CSI 300 index extended gains to 1% in Shanghai, with hotel and airline stocks up. Futures contracts on the S&P 500 also built on their advance after the announcement, while the yuan erased losses to rise offshore and onshore. 

Testing requirements during the mandatory quarantine period were changed in the protocol. Travellers are now required only to give throat swabs, rather than nasal ones. The new guidelines, updated for the first time since May 2021, make no mention of any vaccination requirements for travellers. 

Many countries made entry easier for inoculated travellers when they first started to open up post-Covid-19. 

Speaking to reporters in Beijing after the announcement, Wang Liping, an official with the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, said the shift is based on science. 

“The adjustment caters to our study of the characteristic of the Omicron variant, and will not increase the risk of transmission,” Wang said. 

Bloomberg News. More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com

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