China will end traveller quarantine on January 8, according to government authorities, marking the last major change to the country’s zero-Covid policy.
This will effectively reopen the country to those with employment and study visas, as well as those looking to visit relatives, after three years of closed borders.
However, this comes as China battles with the rapid spread of the virus following the removal of prohibitions.
According to reports, hospitals are overcrowded and elderly patients are dying.
Officials have ceased disclosing Covid data, so the exact toll – daily case counts and fatalities – is now unclear.
Last week, Beijing recorded over 4,000 new Covid infections every day, with few fatalities.
On Sunday, it was announced that case numbers would no longer be published. According to Reuters, the British health data business Airfinity calculated that China was experiencing over a million infections and 5,000 deaths every day.
After three years of lockdowns, closed borders, and mandatory quarantine for Covid cases and contacts, China is the final major economy to transition to “living with Covid.”
The so-called zero-Covid approach harmed the economy and grew citizens weary of repeated restrictions and examinations. In November, resentment against the programme erupted into rare public protests against President Xi Jinping, which resulted to the immediate repeal of Covid regulations.
Closed borders are the only remaining major constraint. Since March 2020, anybody entering China has been required to endure up to three weeks of obligatory quarantine in a governmental facility. This has recently been shortened to five days.
On Monday, however, the National Health Commission declared that on January 8, Covid would be officially reduced to a Class B infectious disease.
This means quarantine would be eliminated, although entering travellers would still be required to take a PCR test, and a daily cap on the number of planes allowed into China would be lifted.
Authorities stated that they will also “optimise” visa conditions for foreigners intending to enter China for work, education, and family visits.
Uncertain if this covers tourist visas, officials announced a test programme for international cruise ships.
The new laws have been welcomed by many Chinese citizens, who can now travel abroad once more. Within hours of the announcement, the nation’s leading online travel providers reported an increase in traffic.
However, many have also expressed resentment at the unexpected liberation after years of restrictions.
Rachel Liu, a resident of Shanghai, said, “I’m thrilled but also dumbfounded. If we’re reopening anyway, why did I have to endure all the daily Covid tests and lockdowns this year?”
In April, she had spent three months of quarantine, but in recent weeks, practically her entire family had contracted the illness.
She reported that her parents, grandparents, and partner, who live in the cities of Xi’an, Shanghai, and Hangzhou, all developed fever last week. Many have also expressed alarm online about the reopening of borders as the number of Covid cases increases in China.
One of the most popular comments on Weibo read, “Why can’t we wait till this wave passes before opening up? The medical staff is already exhausted, and elderly folks cannot survive two diseases in one month.”
People in winter-chilled cities such as Beijing and Shanghai report running out of flu and cold medication and scrambling to find medical assistance for sick relatives. It is anticipated that hundreds of deaths may not be registered since crematoriums are at capacity.
President Xi made his first statements regarding the measures on Monday, urging officials to do all “possible” to save lives. He was quoted by state media as saying that the country faced a new pandemic control situation and required a more targeted approach.
According to observers, Mr. Xi is in a difficult position because of China’s reversal of pandemic management. He was the leading driver behind zero-Covid, which was condemned by many for unnecessarily restricting people’s lives and damaging the economy.
As a result of abandoning it, analysts argue he now bears responsibility for the massive outbreak of illnesses and hospitalisations. Numerous individuals have questioned why the nation was not better prepared.