By Asmau Ahmad
China will drop a COVID-19 quarantine requirement for passengers arriving from abroad starting January 8, the National Health Commission announced Monday in the latest easing of the country’s once-strict virus-control measures.
Currently, arriving passengers must quarantine for five days at a hotel, followed by three days at home. That is down from as much as three weeks in the past.
The scrapping of the quarantine requirement is a major step toward fully reopening travel with the rest of the world, which the government severely curtailed in a bid to keep the virus out.
The restrictions have prevented most Chinese from traveling abroad, limited face-to-face diplomatic exchanges and sharply reduced the number of foreigners in China for work and study.
China’s health commission said that steps would be taken to make it easier for some foreigners to enter the country, though it didn’t include tourists.
It did indicate that Chinese would be gradually allowed to travel abroad for tourism again, an important source of revenue for hotels and related businesses in many countries.
People coming to China will still need a negative virus test 48 hours before departure and passengers will be required to wear protective masks on board, an online post from the health commission said.
China abruptly dropped many of its pandemic restrictions earlier this month, sparking widespread outbreaks that have swamped hospital emergency rooms and funeral homes.
The move followed rare public protests against the restrictions, which have slowed the economy, putting people out of work and driving restaurants and shops out of business.
For more than two and half years, Chinese authorities enforced a strict zero-COVID approach that became a signature policy of leader Xi Jinping.
The arrival of the fast-spreading omicron variant in late 2021 made the strategy increasingly untenable, requiring ever-wider lockdowns that stymied growth and disrupted lives.