China lifts curbs on international flights; Trims quarantine time


China has trimmed the quarantine time for inbound travelers and scrapped curbs on international flights as it began to ease its stringent Zero-COVID policy.

The new rules were announced following the first meeting of the newly elected seven-member Standing Committee of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) headed by Xi Jinping on Thursday, November 10. The Standing Committee is the highest policy-making and implementation body of the CPC.

On the domestic front, China has adjusted quarantine requirements for close contacts of confirmed cases from seven days of centralized quarantine plus three days of health observation at home to five days of quarantine plus three days of the word.

No “circuit breaker” on overseas inbound flights to China upon detecting positive cases on board, state-run Global Times tweeted on Friday. Under the circuit breaker policy, Chinese aviation officials arbitrarily suspend international flights for a prolonged period if any passengers tested positive for COVID-19 upon arrival.

The flights also have to return empty if any cases are detected. This has resulted in many international airlines, including air operators flying to China, resulting in huge losses.

Earlier this month, there was speculation that China was preparing to lift the ban on individual flights that carried positive COVID cases into the country. With the new rules in place, the country has, indeed, decided to scrap the penalty on airlines that fly in COVID-positive passengers.

The circuit breaker was regarded as the main stumbling block for the restoration of flights between India and China as airline operators in India were averse to agreeing to operate flights to China.

There were no direct flights between China and India for over two years, prompting people traveling between the two countries to fly through the third-country routes. According to sources, the removal of the circuit breaker rule could facilitate the partial resumption of direct flights between the two countries.

The Global Times tweets also said the government has further adjusted quarantine rules for international passengers. Other adjustments include: shortening quarantine requirements for international arrivals from 7+3 to 5+3 and ending screening of secondary close contacts, it said.

Travelers into China will be required to spend five days in a hotel or government quarantine facility, followed by three days confined to home, according to a National Health Commission statement on Friday (Nov 11). The current rules require ten days of quarantine, with a week in a hotel and then three days at home.

Observers believe the mandatory quarantine in government-designated places is unlikely to make an impact due to the poor living conditions and catering services.

On the domestic front, China adjusted quarantine requirements for close contacts. Under this rule, close contacts of people who tested positive had to mandatorily undergo seven days’ quarantine at designated centers and three days at home. This has now been reduced to five days in quarantine centers and three days of observation.

Significantly the new rules were announced as China continues to report a high number of COVID cases. On Thursday, the Chinese mainland reported 1,150 locally transmitted confirmed COVID cases and 9,385 local asymptomatic cases in different cities.

China is the last major economy to adhere to a zero-Covid policy, using snap lockdowns, mass testing, extensive contact tracing, and quarantines to stamp out infections as soon as they emerge.

The continued spike in coronavirus cases despite China’s relative isolation under its stringent Zero-COVID policy is being questioned at home and abroad.

The Standing Committee meeting has finalized 20 measures to optimize epidemic prevention and control work further. It was resolved at the meeting that more resolute and decisive anti-epidemic measures should be taken to contain the spread of the virus and restore the standard order of work and life as soon as possible.

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