China’s pivot in COVID plan sparks jitters worldwide

U.S. officials say they are considering COVID entry restrictions on travellers from China, after countries including Japan and India introduced PCR testing on arrival for Chinese passengers

Published - December 28, 2022 10:33 pm IST - Beijing

Passengers go through immigration at the international airport in Hong Kong on December 28, 2022.

Passengers go through immigration at the international airport in Hong Kong on December 28, 2022. | Photo Credit: AFP

Beijing’s sudden pivot away from containing COVID-19 has caused jitters around the world, with the United States saying it may restrict travel from China following its decision to end mandatory quarantine for overseas arrivals.

China late on Monday scrapped quarantine for inbound travellers from January 8 onwards, dismantling the last remaining piece of its stringent zero-COVID policy and ending some of the world’s harshest border restrictions.

The move was greeted with jubilation by Chinese citizens, who rushed to book international flights, triggering a surge in ticket prices.

Hospitals and crematoriums across China continue to be overwhelmed by an influx of mostly elderly people.

Dozens of mostly elderly COVID patients were lying on gurneys in overflowing hospital emergency wards in Tianjin, 140 kilometres (87 miles) southwest of the capital Beijing on Wednesday.

Medical staff are “pretty much all” expected to continue working despite testing positive for the virus, one doctor said.

Other countries have expressed concerns about the potential for new variants to emerge as China battles the world’s biggest surge in infections.

Restrictions ahead

U.S. officials said late on Tuesday they were considering COVID entry restrictions on travellers from China, after countries including Japan and India introduced PCR testing on arrival for Chinese passengers.

The United States is “considering taking similar steps” to countries such as Japan and Malaysia, they added. Taiwan, a self-ruled island that China claims as its own, said on Wednesday that it would also screen travellers from the mainland for the virus.

China’s loosening of measures effectively brought the curtain down on a zero-COVID regime of mass testing, lockdowns and long quarantines that has stalled its economy and triggered large-scale nationwide protests.

Chinese immigration authorities said on Tuesday they will resume issuing passports for tourism purposes from January 8, after years of strict exit controls.

The winter surge comes ahead of major public holidays next month in which hundreds of millions of people are expected to travel to their hometowns to reunite with relatives.

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