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China relaxes some COVID rules even as cases surge

November 11, 2022

China is recording its highest number of COVID cases since April, with the southern port hub of Guangzhou under lockdown. However, authorities are also relaxing some quarantine and test rules for travelers.

Pandemic prevention workers in protective suits spray disinfectant in a residential compound
China's economic growth has been hampered by the government's sringent COVID policyImage: Thomas Peter/REUTERS

On Friday, Chinese disease control authorities said they would slightly relax quarantine rules for inbound travelers, even as authorities vow to maintain strict zero-COVID policies to combat outbreaks. 

Shutdowns of cities and factories continue to take a toll on the Chinese economy, which is growing slower than projected.

What are the changes?

The required quarantine time is reduced to eight days from ten, with five days in a state isolation center and the rest of the time at home. Arrivals will still be required to remain indoors during this period. 

Travelers will also only be required to show one negative COVID test within 48 hours of boarding flights to China. However, for foreigners, receiving a visa to enter China currently remains a complicated process. 

So-called "circuit breaker" mechanisms on inbound flights will be removed, under which flight routes had been temporarily shut down if a number of passengers tested positive. 

Within the country, those traveling from high- to low-risk areas will be allowed to quarantine at home, rather than at state facilities. Areas are defined as "low-risk" if they report zero new infections for five successive days. Contact tracing rules will also be eased. 

"Optimizing and adjusting prevention and control measures is not relaxing prevention and control... but to adapt to the new situation of epidemic prevention and control and the new characteristics of COVID-19 mutation," the National Health Commission (NHC) said.

An empty airport in Shanghai
Traveling to China remains a complicated processImage: José Fuste Raga/imago images

Lockdowns continue in China  

Authorities in China stepped up lockdowns in some cities after more than 10,500 new cases were reported nationwide on Friday — the highest count since April.

At that time, the commercial hub of Shanghai, was battling a serious outbreak and was put under strict lockdown.

Although the case count is fairly low compared to China's 1.4 billion population, authorities in China maintain a strict policy to quash outbreaks with snap lockdowns, mass testing, and mandatory quarantines.

Guangzhou, a sprawling port city and a manufacturing hub in the south of China, is at the center of China's latest outbreak, with over 2,000 new COVID cases having been reported for four days straight. 

The district of Haizhu, with 1.8 million people at the heart of the city, declared a hard lockdown on Friday. 

"All residents are required to stay at home," the district government said in a statement. "Only one person in each household is allowed to buy daily necessities on a staggered schedule."

Public transit in Haizhu has been suspended and mandatory PCR tests will be administered to "every household and every individual", the district government said.

In the capital, Beijing, most of the city's 21 million residents are subjected to daily testing. And after 118 cases were reported on Friday, parks, shops and restaurants were closed, hospitals also reduced service and schools moved classes online. 

Under strict rules, people from cities that have reported a single case within seven days are barred from visiting Beijing.

Two lines of people wait to be tested for COVID
Beijing carries out mass testing for most of its residents to trace infections Image: Jade GAO/AFP/Getty Images

mk/wmr (AFP, AP, Reuters)