People in China have reacted with joy and rushed to plan trips overseas after Beijing said it would scrap mandatory Covid quarantine for overseas arrivals that will end almost three years of self-imposed isolation.
In a snap move late on Monday, China said from January 8 inbound travellers would no longer be required to quarantine on arrival in a further unwinding of hardline coronavirus controls that had that torpedoed its economy and sparked nationwide protests.
Online searches for flights abroad surged on the news, with travel platform Tongcheng seeing an 850 percent jump in searches and a ten-fold jump in enquiries about visas, according to state media reports.
Rival platform Trip.com Group said the volume of searches for popular overseas destinations rose by 10 times year-on-year within half an hour of the announcement.
Users were particularly keen on trips to Macau, Hong Kong, Japan, Thailand and South Korea, it added.
“I felt like the epidemic is finally over,” said Beijing office worker Fan Chengcheng, 27. “The travel plans I made three years ago may now become a reality.”
Shanghai resident Ji Weihe said the move would make China “benefit the economy, peoples’ lives and their desires to go out and travel”.
But some Chinese may face hurdles when they do go abroad, with Japan announcing that it would require Covid-19 tests on arrival for travellers from mainland China from Friday.
Rising cases in China, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said, were “causing growing concern in Japan.”
Cases still on rise
All passengers arriving in China have had to undergo mandatory centralised quarantine since March 2020. That decreased from three weeks to one week in June, and to five days last month.
The end of those rules in January will also see Covid-19 downgraded to a Class B infectious disease from Class A, a formal distinction that allows authorities to adopt looser controls.
The announcement effectively brought the curtain down on a zero-Covid regime of mass testing, strict lockdowns and long quarantines that has roiled supply chains and buffeted business engagement with the world’s second-largest economy.
However, cases have surged nationwide as key pillars of the containment policy have fallen away, with authorities acknowledging the outbreak is “impossible” to track and doing away with much-maligned official case tallies.
Beijing also narrowed the criteria by which Covid fatalities are counted last week, a move experts said would suppress the number of deaths attributable to the virus.
Some studies have estimated around one million people could die in China from Covid over the next few months.