BEIJING (AP) — Travelers arriving in China will spend less time in quarantine thanks to changes to sweeping virus checks announced Friday to reduce disruption to the economy and society.
The announcement came as a surge in COVID-19 cases prompted Beijing to close parks and impose other restrictions. The country has reported 10,729 new cases and more than 5 million people have been confined to their homes in the southern manufacturing hub of Guangzhou and the western megacity of Chongqing.
While the bulk of Beijing’s 21 million people undergo near-daily testing, an additional 118 new cases have been recorded in the sprawling city. Many schools in the city have moved to online classes, hospitals have restricted services and some shops and restaurants have been closed with their staff quarantined. Videos on social media showed people in some areas protesting or fighting with police and health workers.
“It has become normal, just like eating and sleeping,” said Yang Zheng, 39, a restaurant worker. “I think what affects the most is the children, because they have to go to school.”
Test requests every 24 to 48 hours are “inconvenient”, said Ying Yiyang, who works in marketing.
“My life is definitely not comparable to what it was three years ago,” Ying said.
Family trips out of Beijing can be difficult if the mandatory smartphone app that tracks the user’s virus test status and whereabouts doesn’t display the green code that allows re-entry to the Chinese capital, a said Ying.
“I’m just staying in Beijing,” Ying said.
Many villages on the outskirts of the capital are home to blue-collar workers whose work keeps the city running, many of whom live in dormitories. Taxi and ride-share drivers said they were avoiding areas so they wouldn’t be quarantined themselves.
Closures in Guangzhou and elsewhere were due to end on Sunday, but authorities have repeatedly extended those restrictions without explanation. Chinese leaders vowed on Thursday to address public frustration over harsh ‘zero-COVID’ strategy which has confined millions of people to their homes and severely disrupted the economy.
Incoming passengers will only be quarantined for five days – instead of the previous seven – at a designated location, followed by three days of isolation at their place of residence, according to a notice from the State Council, China Cabinet .
It was not immediately clear when or where the rules would come into effect and whether they would apply to foreigners and Chinese citizens.
Eased standards will also be applied to foreign businessmen and athletes, in what appears to be a gradual move towards normalization.
Airlines will no longer be threatened with a two-week suspension of flights if five or more passengers test positive, the regulations say, potentially offering a major seat expansion on those flights that have fallen in number and risen in price since restrictions were imposed in 2020.
Those flying to China will only need to show one negative test for the virus within 48 hours of travel, according to the rules. Previously, two tests within this period were required.
Macau will also reduce its hotel quarantine period from seven days to five days, followed by three days of isolation at its residence, for arrivals from Hong Kong, Taiwan and overseas from Saturday, authorities said.
‘Zero-COVID’ has kept China’s infection rate relatively low, but is weighing on the economy and disrupting life by closing schools, factories and shops, or sealing off neighborhoods without warning . With the new surge in cases, a growing number of regions are closing businesses and imposing restrictions on movement. To enter office buildings, shopping malls and other public places, people must show a negative result of a virus test taken up to once a day.
As economic growth weakens again After rebounding to 3.9% from a year earlier in the three months to September, forecasters expected bolder moves towards reopening the country, whose borders remain largely closed.
Company group policies discourage foreign executives from visiting, prompting companies to shift their investment plans to other countries. Visits by U.S. officials and lawmakers tasked with maintaining crucial trade relations amid tensions over tariffs, Taiwan and human rights have all but stalled.
Last week, access to part of the central city of Zhengzhou, home to the world’s largest iPhone factory, was suspended after residents tested positive for the virus. Thousands of workers jumped fences and marched along highways to escape the factory operated by Foxconn Technology Group of Taiwan. Apple Inc. later warned that customers would be waiting longer for shipments of its new iPhone 14 model.
China confirmed on Friday that the president and leader of the ruling Communist Party, Xi Jinping, will make a rare overseas trip next week.but he gave little indication of the decline of a policy that the party closely associated with social stability and the avowed superiority of its policy.
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