China lifts inbound quarantine rules in decisive break with zero-Covid regime

China will remove quarantine requirements for incoming travelers from January 8 as the country sheds remnants of a zero-covid regime that has closed it off from the rest of the world for nearly three years.

The National Health Commission announced the move on Monday as part of a broader announcement to downgrade the country’s management of Covid-19 and firmly abandon several preventive measures.

More than 90 percent of cases of the omicron variant are “mild or asymptomatic,” the NHC said, part of a change in tone as the coronavirus spreads across a country where until recently few of its population of 1.4 billion were infected.

The government, which this month scrapped the requirement for positive cases to be quarantined in centralized facilities, is now battling a severe winter outbreak with estimated cases. Spinning into the hundreds of millions And health services are under pressure.

Models estimate the virus could lead to 1 million deaths, although China’s public data do not reflect the situation on the ground and other zero-covid rules, such as mass testing, have largely ended.

On Sunday, a day before lifting the incoming quarantine requirement, the NHC announced it would no longer publish daily case counts, handing over to the Chinese Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC said on Tuesday that it will release the Covid data monthly, under the downgraded classification.

Chinese shares rose across the Asia-Pacific region, with the CSI 300 of Shanghai- and Shenzhen-listed shares rising 1.15 percent, while the Shanghai Composite Index added 1 percent. Hong Kong’s exchange closed.

China It has followed a strict zero-covid policy since the outbreak of the pandemic, locking down many of its major cities and imposing quarantine on foreign visitors in an effort to eliminate the virus within its borders.

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Later this year, the policy began to unravel as authorities struggled to control outbreaks in several cities, including the capital Beijing. Opponents It hit the streets in November In a rare defiance of the central government, it dramatically relaxed its stance.

Monday’s announcement marks the end of the zero-covid system, which transformed China’s relationship with the outside world and successfully controlled the spread of the virus for a long time.

At one point this year, incoming international travelers had to spend three weeks in a hotel room. The current policy of five days in a hotel followed by three days at home will end on January 8. Covid test results must come back negative within 48 hours of departure and masks must be worn on flights.

China’s immigration authority announced on Tuesday that it will resume issuing visas for overseas travel from January 8, in another major development for the country’s reopening. Officials will begin issuing desirable Hong Kong entry permits for business or travel, the same day visa extensions and new approvals for foreign passport holders resume, the National Immigration Administration said.

The sudden lifting of restrictions has already put enormous pressure on China’s health system. Especially in BeijingIt was one of the blast centers before the policy was abandoned and was considered one of the best prepared cities.

Recent economic data highlight the costs of the policy. Retail sales, a measure of consumer spending, fell 5.9 percent year-on-year in November, worse than analyst expectations, while the economy is already on pace to miss its 5.5 percent annual growth target, the slowest in decades.

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But analysts have also warned of the economic and corporate costs of the virus as it sweeps the country. Apple is among those vulnerable And for supply chain issues.

Under zero-Covid, citizens in China will have to check in at booths in major cities every few days and scan codes on their phones to enter buildings. Such practices have largely disappeared as cases mount, although as recently as late November in Shanghai, individuals were taken into central quarantine because they were close contacts of positive cases in bars.

Additional reporting by Cheng Leng in Hong Kong

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