©Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Passengers walk to the departure gates at an Olympic travelers area at Beijing Capital International Airport during the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China, February 19, 2022 amid the ongoing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic
BEIJING (Reuters) – China will stop requiring arrivals to quarantine from January 8, the National Health Commission said on Monday in a key step to ease restrictions at its borders, which have largely been closed since 2020.
China’s management of COVID-19 will also be downgraded to the less severe category B from the current top category A, the health agency said in a statement, as the disease has become less virulent and will gradually evolve into a common respiratory infection.
Three years of zero-tolerance measures, from closed borders to frequent lockdowns, have battered China’s economy and last month fueled the mainland’s greatest public discontent since President Xi Jinping came to power in 2012.
But China made an abrupt policy U-turn this month, dropping almost all of its domestic COVID curbs in a move that has left hospitals across the country struggling to cope with a nationwide wave of infections.
Strict restrictions on those entering the country remained in place, including five days of mandatory quarantine in a government-supervised facility and three more days of home isolation.
This restriction and a restriction on the number of passengers on international flights will be lifted from January 8th. However, travelers entering China must undergo a PCR test 48 hours before departure, the health agency said.
Arrangements for foreign nationals to enter China, such as for work and business, will be improved and required visas will also be eased, the agency said.
However, passenger inbound and outbound travel at sea and land ports will gradually resume, while outbound travel of Chinese nationals will be restored “in an orderly manner,” she added.
As of January 2020, China had classified COVID-19 as a Category B infectious disease but managed it under Category A protocols, which cover diseases such as bubonic plague and cholera and give local authorities the power to quarantine patients and their close contacts and cordon off regions.
As China downgrades its management of the new coronavirus, the National Health Commission said epidemic prevention and control protocols are being strengthened in key institutions such as elderly care facilities.
If an outbreak becomes severe, the facility will implement so-called “closed management” to prevent the spread of infection, the agency said.
China will also continue to increase vaccination coverage among the elderly and encourage second doses among those at high risk of serious illnesses.
China is the latest major country to move to treating COVID as endemic. Its containment measures had slowed the $17 trillion economy to its lowest growth rate in nearly half a century, disrupting global supply chains and trade.