The first to be affected by Covid-19, China closed its borders to foreign travelers in March 2020 to protect itself against new infections, at a time when the virus was spreading to the rest of the world. At the same time, China had sharply reduced the number of flights from abroad.
To discourage the return of its nationals, Beijing imposed for more than two years a long and expensive quarantine at the hotel or in a dedicated center.
Under a new directive unveiled on Tuesday, quarantine on arrival in China is reduced to 10 days, down from 21 initially.
Passengers arriving in China will have to stay at the hotel for seven days and then observe three days of observation at home, said the Ministry of Health.
This is “absolutely not a relaxation” of the so-called zero Covid health policy but an “adjustment”, warned an official, Lei Zhenglong.
Firmly defended by Chinese President Xi Jinping, the zero Covid strategy consists of confinements, quarantines on arrival in the territory, the isolation of infected people and the virtual closure of borders.
– Very gradual easing –
The new measures were perceived by the markets as a positive signal for an economy tested by the sanitary measures which penalize human exchanges and the supply chain.
The Hong Kong and Shanghai stock markets ended Tuesday up nearly 1%.
Local health authorities in Beijing and Guangzhou, however, told AFP that they had not yet received any instructions to reduce the duration of quarantines for international flights.
Since April, a growing number of pilot cities had already reduced the quarantine for arrivals from abroad to ten days.
“Long quarantines are no longer necessary”, the incubation period for the Omicron strain of the coronavirus being shorter, notes Yanzhong Huang, public health specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations, an American think tank.
Most of the returns to China concern Chinese nationals.
But in recent months, the country has again gradually allowed a certain number of foreigners to return to China, with the notable exception of tourists.
Students from several countries, including India and Pakistan, can thus apply for a visa for the first time since the start of the pandemic.
– Fear of a rebound –
But international flights remain rare, very expensive and are frequently canceled, with Beijing applying penalties when a number of passengers test positive on routes.
On Friday, Chinese civil aviation said it was in discussion with a number of countries to gradually increase links with China.
Most analysts, however, doubt that major changes will occur in the short term.
At the end of the year must indeed be held in China the 20th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), during which President Xi Jinping should obtain a third mandate at the head of the country.
As this event, considered sensitive for the government, approaches, the authorities want to avoid any resurgence of the epidemic.
To prevent any risk, China has already strongly restricted the departures abroad of its nationals. Non-essential travel is not allowed and most passport renewals for Chinese have been suspended.
While voices have been pleading in recent months for an easing of health restrictions, President Xi Jinping insists on continuing the zero Covid policy.