Chinese officials are debating whether to reduce the amount of time people coming into the country must spend in mandatory quarantine, according to people familiar with the discussions, as the country's Covid Zero policy leaves it increasingly isolated from the rest of the world.
Bureaucrats are looking at cutting the quarantine period to two days in a hotel and then five days at home, said the people, asking not to be identified as the discussions are private. Currently, China requires 10 days of isolation on entry into the country, with seven days confined to a hotel room, and then another three days at home, where people are still monitored and subject to regular testing.
It's unclear what restrictions would apply to the new home isolation period, and how it would apply to foreigners and other visitors without a residence in China. The move could be included in a new iteration of the nation's Covid protocol expected to be released soon, the people said. Authorities throughout China use the protocol to guide their response when virus cases emerge.
The shift would need to be approved by senior leaders, so could still be altered or not deployed at all, one of the people said. The National Health Commission, which is in charge of the protocol, didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
A Bloomberg gauge of the dollar erased gains and the offshore yuan rose against the greenback. China's benchmark CSI 300 Index erased losses of as much as 1.3% at the afternoon open on Thursday following the news, with stocks linked to the nation reopening, including Air China Ltd. and China Eastern Airlines Corp. turning positive.
The discussions come as investors look for clues to the outlook for China's economically damaging Covid Zero strategy, which has seen the country continue to try and suppress the virus, even as the rest of the world lives alongside it.
Airline shares may get a short-term boost on the news, but more meaningful equity moves would hinge on the country dropping Covid restrictions altogether, said Amir Anvarzadeh, a strategist at Asymmetric Advisors Ltd.
"A cut to quarantine rules for inbound travelers will not be enough" for a sustained rebound in the Chinese market, he said.
China did reduce the time travelers need to quarantine on entry in a review of the protocol in June -- down from as much as 21 days hotel quarantine in some places -- potentially in response to discontent with the stringent border regime. But the move was followed by even stricter deployment of internal restrictions such as lockdowns and mandatory testing orders. President Xi Jinping reinforced the rectitude of Covid Zero at his address to the Communist Party congress on Sunday, damping hopes he may signal an end to the contentious policy some time soon.
Still, in another sign a potential shift on the border is looming, China's biggest airlines are planning more international flights from later this month. The border restrictions and Covid curbs have made getting into China virtually impossible, with flights in and out of the country still around 95% below pre-Covid levels, according to data provider VariFlight.
Even if quarantine times are reduced, the way Covid is policed in China may mean people are still subject to lengthy restrictions. Neighborhood and even apartment block committees have the power to refuse people entry if officials are concerned about their virus exposure.
As part of Covid Zero, China quarantines all cases and their close contacts in government isolation sites. Shanghai is building a 3,250-bed virus quarantine site over 35 acres on Fuxing island, and is recruiting hundreds of Covid workers on two-year contracts, Caixin reported earlier this month, evidence the country is committed to its zero-tolerance approach long term.
(With assistance from Ishika Mookerjee and Ruth Carson)
© 2022 Bloomberg L.P.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)