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On Tuesday, China cut the quarantine time for incoming travelers in half. significant easing of COVID-19 restrictions this is holding back cross-border travel and bringing international flights to just 2% of pre-pandemic levels.
The National Health Commission said the quarantine at centralized facilities was reduced to seven days from 14, and follow-up health monitoring at home was reduced to three days from seven.
China’s commitment to strict COVID measures even as the rest of the world struggles to live with the virus has crippled its economy, frustrated businesses and infuriated millions of people trapped under draconian restrictions in cities like Shanghai.
In recent months China cautiously eased restrictions about cross-border travelers, with health officials saying the shorter incubation period of the Omicron variant allows adjustments to quarantine times.
And earlier this month, China’s aviation regulator said it had contacted some countries to steadily increase the number of flights in the second half of 2022.
The new quarantine rules have been welcomed by American, British and European business lobby groups in China.
“We hope this will help expand business exchanges and stop the exodus of international talent, some of whom have been separated from family and friends abroad for three years,” the British Chamber of Commerce in China told Reuters.
Welcoming the change, the European Chamber of Commerce in China warned that it remains to be seen if all local authorities will follow the new, looser rules.
Stock markets in Hong Kong and the mainland rose, with the Hang Seng index bouncing back 0.9% and the CSI300 gaining 1%.
Shares in mainland Chinese travel companies jumped more than 5%.
Beijing and Shanghai on Tuesday reported no new local COVID infections, the first time since late February that both cities were clean at the same time.
Their daily workload has dropped to single digits over the past week, allowing Shanghai to gradually resume dining out and Beijing to reopen some holiday destinations, including the Universal Beijing Resort.
On Tuesday, Walt Disney Co’s Shanghai Disney Resort said it would reopen the Disneyland theme park on June 30; it has been closed for over three months.
The authorities, however, have been adamant about the government’s so-called “Dynamic Zero COVID” approach. Chairman Xi Jinping which aims to block the spread of outbreaks as they occur, remains in effect.
Beijing will “fight any new outbreaks from the start and quickly and decisively cut off their transmission channel,” said Cai Qi, the chief head of the city’s Communist Party, in a report by the party-backed Beijing Daily.
Earlier Monday, the Beijing Daily appeared to misquote Tsai, saying the city would continue its efforts to fight COVID for “the next five years.”
The newspaper subsequently deleted the mention, and its leader, Zhao Jingyun, said it was a mistake, but this did not remove the public’s suspicions.
“Of course it wasn’t a mistake! It’s meant to gauge public opinion!” — said the user of the social network Weibo.
Another Weibo user said that even if it was a mistake, “at least the authorities are now aware of how helpless we all feel and how much we hate the current epidemic control policy.”