China lifts travel restrictions in the midst of a Covid outbreak

A woman wearing a protective mask and a face shield walks along in a shopping district as China returns to work despite continuing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreaks in Shanghai, China, January 3, 2023. REUTERS/Aly Song

On Saturday, the Chinese authorities ordered the release of those jailed for various coronavirus-related incidents, a day before Beijing's planned repeal of its three-year-old zero-Covid policy.

China will terminate its worldwide isolation on Sunday at midnight, fully opening its airports and ports for travel and trade in response to a large coronavirus outbreak.

Once the limitations are lifted, international visitors can enter China without undergoing nucleic acid tests or being subject to quarantine.

China is coping with a sudden increase in coronavirus infections fueled by Omicron variants after the government loosened its strict zero-Covid policy last month in response to a wave of anti-government protests. The abolition of all travel restrictions comes when China copes with a sudden increase in coronavirus infections.

According to officials, the Omicron version is less lethal than the Delta strain, which caused significant casualties worldwide.

In addition, the Chinese government authorized the release of those jailed for Covid-related offenses on Saturday, before the total relaxation of Covid regulations.

A government announcement stated that all seized items must be returned and that quarantine and control measures at state borders will no longer be considered illegal.

According to the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, the order instructed local courts, police, and customs to apply the criminal policy of leniency and severity wholly and precisely.

The new categorization of Covid-19 downgraded from category A to category B, which places it alongside the most lethal diseases like bubonic plague and cholera, signifies that epidemic control and prevention is entering a new age, according to a notification published on Saturday.

However, it stated that actions that disturb the regular medical order, such as counterfeiting, smuggling, and price gouging, as well as interfering with the work of medical personnel, should be severely penalized to safeguard national security and social stability.

There was no explicit indication of whether or not the order applies to the dozens of individuals detained during last month's rare protests against the zero-covid policy, some of whom demanded the overthrow of Chinese President Xi Jinping's rule.

Social media recordings of rallies in Shanghai showed individuals openly screaming chants such as "Xi Jinping, resign" and "Communist party, resign."

Observers claim that the last month's protests represent the first open opposition to the leadership of Xi, who in October was elected to an extraordinary third five-year term by the ruling Communist Party of China's once-every-five-years conference.

Hundreds of people have been detained over the past three years for opposing apartment lockdowns and being dragged from their apartments to quarantine centers.

While the announcement of the abolition of quarantine regulations was highly applauded in China, the timing of the opening has sparked alarm abroad, as it comes ahead of the country's important Spring Festival on January 22, when millions of Chinese will go abroad.

WHO accuses China of downplaying severity

According to the WHO, China is playing down the severity of the viral spread in the country.

Dr. Michael Ryan, Director of WHO emergencies, told a media briefing in Geneva on January 5 that he believes the published data from China understate the full effect of the disease in terms of hospitalizations, intensive care unit admissions, and especially deaths.

Ryan's comments came after Chinese health officials met their WHO colleagues and updated them on the current prevalence of Omicron variations in the country.

The tremendous global spread of Covid-19, which caused unparalleled mortality and devastation, was mainly attributed to Chinese tourism during the spring festival in 2020, mainly from Wuhan, where the coronavirus infections initially emerged.

Unofficially, it is expected that the spring festival holiday will span approximately 40 days.

Considering they do not have to undergo quarantine upon their return, the Chinese are already preparing to fly abroad in large numbers.

Previously, passengers arriving from outside were required to spend nearly two weeks in government-run quarantine facilities. This requirement was gradually reduced to five days, with an additional three days of home observation.

China's 40-day Chunyun or Spring Festival travel rush, the world's most significant human migration, is anticipated to generate around 2.09 billion passenger journeys this year, a 99.5% increase from 2022.

China's Ministry of Transport (MOT) announced on Friday that the number of passengers has risen sharply since the country's epidemic response has been optimized and as pent-up demand for travel has been released.

Even though the official holiday lasts around a week, beginning on January 22, Chunyun in 2023 will last 40 days, from January 7 to February 15.

In Shanghai, at least 30 known sub-variants of the Omicron virus have been found in recent days, according to government media.

Australia, Canada, India, Israel, Malaysia, Morocco, Qatar, South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, the United States, and several EU nations have demanded that Chinese travelers present PCR tests taken within the previous 48 hours; Morocco has even banned Chinese travelers from entering the country out of concern for the spread of Covid-19.

India requires negative COVID-19 test results from travelers entering from China, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and Thailand. The travelers must spend a period of quarantine if they test positive for the disease.

China deems the limitations placed on Chinese travelers as discriminatory.

Several of these measures are unreasonable and unacceptable. We vehemently oppose COVID measures for political reasons and would respond to various conditions by the principle of reciprocity, said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning at a media briefing on Monday.

Publish : 2023-01-08 11:18:00

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