China Eases Covid Restrictions, Cuts Quarantine Period For Travellers

In a further sign of easing, the National Health Commission said it was abolishing the requirement to identify and isolate "secondary close contacts".

China Eases Covid Restrictions, Cuts Quarantine Period For Travellers

China announced relaxation of some of its hardline Covid restrictions.

Beijing:

China announced the relaxation of some of its hardline Covid-19 restrictions on Friday, after authorities had vowed to stick to a zero-tolerance virus approach despite mounting economic damage.

The country is the last major economy welded to a strategy of stamping out virus flare-ups as they occur, through a combination of snap lockdowns, mass testing and lengthy quarantines.

Top leaders had pledged to stick "unswervingly" to the policy, which has forced business closures, roiled international supply chains and weighed heavily on growth.

But a notice from the country's disease control agency on Friday said the Politburo Standing Committee -- the apex of power in China -- met Thursday to rubberstamp limited relaxations.

According to the notice, quarantines for inbound travellers will be cut from 10 days to eight, consisting of five days in a state isolation centre and three days at home.

Inbound arrivals will still be required to undergo six nucleic acid tests and will not be allowed to freely set foot outside during those eight days, the notice says.

It adds that travellers will only be required to show one negative Covid test within 48 hours of boarding flights to China, a reduction from the current two tests.

Relaxing strict policies

The new rules single out "important business personnel" and "sports groups" as examples of privileged groups permitted to skip quarantine as long as they remain in a virus-secure "closed loop" for the duration of their stays.

It added that a so-called "circuit breaker" mechanism on inbound flights would be abolished, bringing an end to a policy that saw the snap closures of flight routes if a certain proportion of passengers tested positive for the virus.

In further signs of easing, the notice did away with the requirement to identify and isolate "secondary close contacts" -- those who may have come into contact with people who recently passed near infected people.

A domestic virus risk system has been reduced from three tiers to two, with areas to be labelled as either "high-risk" and subject to curbs, or "low-risk" with minimal restrictions.

People travelling from high- to low-risk areas will be required to undergo seven days of isolation at home, instead of staying in centralised facilities.

Places will be defined as "low-risk" if they record zero new infections for five successive days.

Workers in environments where exposure to the virus is higher -- such as cabin crews, airport staff and quarantine hotel personnel -- will undergo shortened quarantines, the notice said.

On Thursday, Chinese state media reported top leaders as saying they would not waver from the zero-Covid policy, echoing a vow last week to "unswervingly" stick to the strategy.

'Unswerving' commitment

China has reopened far more slowly than most other countries, a move that has kept infections to a minimum.

The country has recorded just over 5,200 Covid deaths, compared with more than a million in the United States.

But pandemic fatigue has begun to set in as the onerous curbs show little sign of letting up, with grinding lockdowns of the kind that hit Shanghai earlier this year sparking isolated public protests.

And the economic impact has been so severe that analysts now expect China to miss its stated annual growth target of around 5.5 percent by a wide margin.

Adding to the difficulties are shifting and sometimes contradictory demands from Beijing, which incentivise local governments to carry out extreme measures.

China's top leaders have repeatedly vowed not to waver from the zero-Covid policy, but officials have also criticised heavy-handed enforcement such as excessively bureaucratic local curbs.

Friday's notice added to the chorus, "strictly forbidding" pre-emptive or overly lengthy lockdowns, unapproved school closures and arbitrary suspensions of work and traffic.

It vowed to "speed up" Covid booster vaccination coverage, especially among the vulnerable older population and boost reserves of antiviral treatments.

China recorded 10,535 new domestic cases on Friday, the vast majority of which were asymptomatic, according to the National Health Commission.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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