As China relaxes its COVID-19 travel restrictions, many countries respond.
After three long years of COVID-19-induced travel restrictions, China finally opened its borders on 8 January by abolishing all quarantine requirements for incoming travelers.
On top of giving access to international travel, Beijing recently enabled air and sea transportation between them and the special administrative region of Hong Kong. According to the South China Morning Post, over 45,000 travelers had crossed the border between Hong Kong and mainland China via ferry by 8 p.m. local time on 8 January.
According to Reuters, the Chinese Ministry of Transport forecasts an incredible two billion trips within China in the next 40 days—a whopping 100% increase from last year's figure—largely owing to the commencement of Chinese New Year celebrations.
By reopening the border, Beijing is finally abandoning its zero-COVID policy. This approach included stringent lockdowns, copious testing, and strict travel limits to guarantee that their citizens experienced minimal virus transmission.
After the policy shift—set off by widespread public unrest—certain Western nations have expressed their apprehension that a surge of Chinese COVID-19 cases may create potentially harmful coronavirus variants.
Over the past few weeks, numerous nations have imposed varying levels of restrictions on Chinese visitors in response to worries over potentially skyrocketing cases. In response, both the U.S. and the U.K. have implemented mandatory pre-flight tests for Chinese travelers, while South Korea now requires testing upon arrival into their country.
In the first week of January, the European Union collectively decided on a strategy that entails pre-flight testing and wastewater surveillance. The EU is exercising a prudent stance to ensure the detection of any possible threats at their earliest stages, owing to the lack of reliable epidemiological information on China. The noncompulsory regulations for member states will be reassessed in mid-January.
Several other nations that recently imposed COVID-19 entry regulations, like India, are now requiring all travelers from countries such as China, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and Thailand to be tested for the virus upon arrival.
Thailand announced that it will reintroduce its COVID-19 entry requirements for foreigners arriving by plane on 9 January in anticipation of the influx of travelers from China.
To enter Thailand, adults must present documentation of at least two vaccinations or proof of recovery from the virus since July in order to be admitted. According to the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand, unvaccinated visitors must provide a medical report explaining why they have not been vaccinated in order to enter the country. This rule will remain in effect until 31 January.
Morocco has adopted the most drastic action of all, completely barring travelers from China regardless of their nationality.
Taking extra precautionary measures, South Korea announced on 2 January that until the end of the month, its consulates in China will no longer accept short-term visa applications. Strict regulations demand that those hailing from China must take a PCR test within the preceding 24 hours of their arrival and remain in isolation until the results come back negative. Starting 5 January, all individuals coming from China must present a negative PCR test taken within the last 48 hours or an antigen test carried out at most 24 hours prior to departure.
On 30 December, Japan began mandatory testing of all individuals who have traveled from or been in mainland China within the past week. If a person tests positive for COVID-19, they must quarantine for seven days and proceed with additional testing.
In a move of retribution, China has imposed restrictions on travelers from countries with travel restrictions against Chinese citizens. The Chinese government has ceased issuing certain visas for South Korean and Japanese citizens. This is a retaliatory measure by Beijing that demonstrates its unwillingness to accept such restrictions on travelers from their country.
“Visas for business, tourism, medical treatment, transit, and general private affairs will be suspended for South Korean citizens effective today,” the Chinese Embassy in Seoul said in a statement on 10 January. The embassy further expressed that if South Korea were to revoke its prejudicial entry restrictions on China, the measures would be amended.
The Chinese embassy in Tokyo announced that it would cease issuing regular visas to Japanese citizens later on, with announcements of resumption yet to come.
Yet, numerous experts have expressed doubts about the practicality of these travel restrictions due to their obsolete nature and limited effectiveness.
“Travel restrictions are unlikely to have any impact whatsoever on the magnitude of waves outside of China, particularly in places like Europe and the U.S., which have no domestic restrictions for COVID and very high domestic circulation,” Tom Peacock, a virologist at the Imperial College London, told VICE World News.