China reopens borders to travel without quarantine | Coronavirus pandemic news
China has ended quarantine requirements for domestic travelers despite battling a nationwide spike in COVID-19 cases.
According to the state-owned China Global Television Network (CGTN), the first passengers arriving under the new rules landed at airports in the southern cities of Guangzhou and Shenzhen shortly after midnight. Sunday.
The 387 passengers on flights from Singapore and Toronto, Canada, were not tested for COVID-19 upon arrival and did not have to spend five days in quarantine at centralized government facilities.
The lifting of quarantine rules marks the final step in unraveling China’s strict “no COVID” policy.
Beijing begins to lift its tough strategy of mandatory isolation, fatigue blockade and routine testing after historic rally against the curb last month. But the sudden changes exposed many of the country’s 1.4 billion population to the virus for the first time, sending a wave of infections flooding some hospitals, emptying shelves. medicine and caused long lines at crematoriums.
The easing of travel restrictions has opened the door for many Chinese to go abroad for the first time since the border closed nearly three years ago without fear of being quarantined at government facilities upon return. about.
But the expected spike in visitors has caused more than a dozen countries to mandatory COVID-19 testing about visitors from China, citing concerns about Beijing “lack of representation” infections and deaths from disease, as well as the potential for the emergence of new and more virulent sub-variants of the coronavirus.
Beijing has called the travel restrictions “unacceptable”.
Despite the testing requirements, Zhang Kai, 28, told AFP news agency he was planning a trip to South Korea or Japan.
“I am happy, now finally [I can] let go,” Zhang said.
He said his friends went to Japan and went through the tests, and considered the request a “small thing”.
In Tokyo, cartoonist Masashi Higashitani said he was excited about China’s reopening and was honing his Chinese skills to prepare for more tourists. But he admits some apprehensions.
“I wonder if too many of them might be beyond our means. I also worry that we need to be more careful about anti-virus measures,” he told AFP.
Experts say while concerns about travelers from China are understandable, the chances of them causing an increase in infections are small.
“Antibody levels in most Chinese people are very low,” said Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, a US-based think tank. That’s “in part because three years of the ‘no COVID’ approach does not tolerate any infections, which means most people in the country are not exposed to the virus and also to the vaccine.” China is inefficient. “.
“So people have reason to be concerned about the large number of tourists from China. But I don’t think it’s reasonable to consider these passengers sick or dangerous,” he told Al Jazeera. “To date, there is no evidence of new sub-variants emerging from China. And since most of these destination countries have learned to live with the virus, the influx of Chinese tourists will not lead to a spike in cases in those countries.”
China’s ‘Great Migration’
The lifting of restrictions on foreign travel comes as China also marks the Lunar New Year, a 40-day period of Lunar New Year travel, with millions expected to travel from the cities. severely affected by COVID-19 go to the countryside to visit relatives, including vulnerable elderly members of the family.
This Lunar New Year holiday, officially starting January 21, will be the first holiday since 2020 without domestic travel restrictions.
The Department of Transport said on Friday that it expected more than 2 billion passengers to make trips over the next 40 days, up 99.5% year-on-year and reaching 70, 3% of trips in 2019.
There was mixed reaction online to the news, with some comments praising the freedom to return home and celebrate the Lunar New Year with family for the first time in years.
However, many others said they would not travel this year, with fears of infecting elderly relatives.
“I don’t dare go back to my hometown for fear of bringing back poison,” one person wrote on Twitter-like Weibo.
There is concern that the large migration of workers from cities to their homeland will cause an increase in infections in smaller towns and rural areas that are not equipped with adequate beds and intensive care unit (ICU) ventilators to deal with them.
Authorities say they are strengthening grass-roots health services, opening more rural fever clinics and establishing a “green channel” for high-risk patients, especially the elderly with the disease. background, transferred directly from the villages to the hospital.
“China’s rural areas are large, have a large population, and health resources per capita are relatively lacking,” said National Health Commission spokesman Mi Feng.
“It is necessary to provide convenient services, promote immunization for the elderly in rural areas, and build grassroots defenses.”
Some analysts are now saying that the current wave of infections may have peaked.
Ernan Cui, an analyst at Gavekal Dragonomics in Beijing, cited several online surveys indicating that rural areas have been infected with COVID-19 more widely than initially thought, with The peak of infection has been reached in most areas, noting that “there is not much disparity between urban and rural areas”.
Sunday also see a easing cross-border travel restrictions between mainland China and the semi-autonomous city of Hong Kong.
Up to 50,000 Hong Kong residents will be able to cross the border daily at three land checkpoints after registering online, and another 10,000 will be allowed to enter by sea, air or bridge without registration. prior to.
More than 410,000 in total signed up to make the journey on Saturday, public broadcaster RTHK reported.
Jillian Xin, who has three children and lives in Hong Kong, said she is “extremely excited” about the border opening, especially when it means it’s easier to meet family in Beijing.
“For us, the border opening means that my kids can finally see their grandparents for the first time since the pandemic started,” she told Reuters news agency. “Our two children have never met their grandfather, so we can’t wait to see them.”