*****UPDATE: The decision to relax travel rules has led countries including Japan, Malaysia, Taiwan, India and the United States to impose tighter measures on visitors from China.*****

China’s National Health Commission has announced plans to remove mandatory quarantine for travellers arriving from overseas from next month.

Strict Covid quarantine rules have been in place since the early days of the pandemic, although the period for which travellers must quarantine has gradually reduced from three weeks to the current five days in a hotel, followed by three days at home.

From January 8, 2023 visitors will no longer be required to quarantine, although they will still have to provide proof of a negative PCR test 48 hours before departure for the country, and the wearing of masks on flights bound for China will remain compulsory.

Authorities will downgrade the management of Covid-19 from category A to category B, and Chinese citizens will be allowed to apply for visas to travel overseas from next month.

Airlines are now likely to ramp up their services to China – Etihad Airways has already announced plans to double the frequency of its Abu Dhabi – Shanghai route from February.

Commenting on the news Dr Xie Xingquan, IATA’s regional vice president for North Asia, said:

“The announcement by the Chinese government, including the removal of quarantine for arriving international travellers and lifting of flight restrictions, is a positive step forward and a welcome development.

“What is needed next is to remove the need for pre-departure Covid-19 testing. It is also crucial for the entire aviation value chain in China to be well prepared and adequately resourced to handle the expected surge of air travellers, so as to avoid the travel disruptions and problems seen elsewhere in the world when borders reopened.

“China’s zero Covid approach so far has held back the recovery of air travel in the Asia Pacific region compared to other parts of the world. The region is expected to reach 44 per cent of 2019 passenger traffic by the year-end. In contrast, other major regions should hit 80-90 per cent of 2019 levels.

“In our industry outlook released in early December, we are anticipating 2023 passenger traffic in the Asia Pacific region to reach 70 per cent of 2019 levels. The outlook had assumed a progressive easing of restrictions in China over the second half of 2023. China’s reopening of her borders in January will have a positive effect on the pace of recovery of the Asia Pacific region.”

Chinese authorities have come under criticism both from abroad and at home for continued zero-Covid policies, and in recent weeks the country has seen cases of the virus soar.

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