China will cancel inbound quarantine for international travelers on January 8 and distributes the Paxlovid anti-COVID drug in Beijing.
Global Times reports that only passengers with fever or other flu-like symptoms will be subjected to antigen tests at airports. The emergence of the fast-spreading Omicron variant, BF.7, in late 2021 made China’s zero-COVID strategy increasingly unjustified requiring ever-wider lockdowns that hindered economic growth, disrupted lives, and triggered emotional breakdowns.
The policy was abandoned after residents took to the streets against the harsh restrictions. But the shift in policy has bombarded hospitals with feverish, wheezing sick patients.
Chinese officials estimate about 250 million people were infected with Covid-19 in the first 20 days of December. It is reported that around 37 million people in China may have been infected with COVID-19 on a single day in December.
Ji Rong from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs reports, “#China will cancel inbound quarantine for intl arrivals from Jan 8. Travelers w/negative test results 48 hours before departure can enter China without applying for green health code.#COVID19 testing¢ralized isolation for all overseas travelers entering China will be canceled” sic.
#China will cancel inbound quarantine for intl arrivals from Jan 8. Travelers w/negative test results 48 hours before departure can enter China without applying for green health code.#COVID19 testing¢ralized isolation for all overseas travelers entering China will be canceled pic.twitter.com/FaMhIdJvQv
— Ji Rong嵇蓉 (@JiRongMFA) December 27, 2022
As China scraps testing, and quarantine rules for international arrivals, it also distributes the Pfizer COVID drug in Beijing while easing out more restrictions that have been in effect since the world was stricken by COVID-19 after the outbreak in Wuhan in 2019.
On Monday, the National Health Commission announced that passengers arriving from abroad will no longer be mandated to undergo quarantine. The new rule will come into effect from January 8. Currently, arriving passengers must quarantine for five days at a hotel, followed by three days at home. The scrapping of the quarantine rule is seen as a significant u-turn by China in how it dealt with the pandemic so far.
President Xi Jinping-led administration that relied on a now-scrapped zero-COVID policy, which included long quarantines, mandatory testing, and harsh lockdowns, to stop the spread of the infection is now reopening travel with the rest of the world.
The latest move comes even as rural Chinese cities labor to cope with an infection outbreak that has overburdened hospitals and pushed crematoriums to the limits. China has stopped reporting the daily COVID count, but those numbers have become unreliable since it scrapped mandatory mass testing rules. Reporters revealing about COVID-19 were also arrested over the last two years.
RELAXING THE RULES
China’s health commission has said that curbs were eased to make it easier for some foreigners to enter the country, though it didn’t include tourists. It did indicate that Chinese citizens would be gradually allowed to travel abroad for tourism again, an important source of revenue for hotels and related businesses in many countries.
The testing and quarantine mandate had stopped most Chinese people from travelling abroad, limited face-to-face diplomatic exchanges, and heavily reduced the number of foreigners in China for work and study, the Guardian reported.
However, inbound passengers will still need a negative virus test 48 hours before In another major development, China has decided to distribute Pfizer’s COVID drug Paxlovid to the capital Beijing’s community health centers in the coming days, state media reported on Monday. Beijing and Shanghai are two major cities that have been staggering under the huge spike in infection which triggered a shortage of drugs in pharmacies.
Paxlovid remains the only foreign medicine to treat COVID that has been approved by China’s regulator for nationwide use, but access is restricted.
VACCINATION OF SENIOR CITIZENS AMID FEAR
China aims to further increase the vaccination rate among the elderly, and promote second doses among people at high risk of severe illness. But many remain skeptical among the elderly as they are alarmed by stories of fevers, blood clots, and other side effects, AP reported.
The health commission has recorded only six COVID fatalities this month, bringing the country’s official toll to 5,241. That is despite multiple reports by families of relatives dying.
China only counts deaths from pneumonia or respiratory failure in its official COVID toll, a health official said last week. That unusually narrow definition excludes many deaths other countries would attribute to COVID.
In the big industrial province of Zhejiang, authorities are going door-to-door and paying the elderly to take the COVID vaccine. Zhejiang is reporting over one million cases daily, and the numbers are expected to double.
Specialists have predicted two million deaths in China through the end of 2023.