China to Drop COVID-19 Cross-Border Travel Restrictions

China’s National Health Commission announced in a statement on December 26 that the country will now approach its management of COVID-19 as a Class-B infectious disease, downgrading the virus from a Class-A ailment. Mandatory testing and quarantine for international arrivals will be canceled and Chinese citizens’ outbound tourism will be resumed in an orderly manner, triggering a sharp increase in ticket searches.

The new border policy, scheduled to come into effect on January 8, will require only that travelers coming to China provide evidence of a negative nucleic acid test result 48 hours before their trip. Authorities say they will further optimize arrangements for foreigners to come to China, such as for resuming work and production, business, studying abroad, and visiting relatives.

According to Group’s data, within half an hour after the policy was released, the search volume of popular travel destinations increased 10 times year-on-year, and hotel searches in other countries reached a peak throughout the past three years. Travel to Japan, Thailand, South Korea, the United States, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia and the United Kingdom during the Spring Festival holiday is now an attractive option for many Chinese people. The search volume of outbound and group tours during the Spring Festival has soared by six times.

According to data by Tongcheng Travel, after the news was released, the top three overseas destinations for prospective Chinese tourists were Japan, South Korea and Thailand. Those showing the strongest interest in outbound travel are mainly in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. According to Qunar, since December, the booking volume of hotels in other countries has gradually increased, such as those in the Philippines, France and Thailand.

Chinese media outlet Yicai quoted Fang Zeqian, an industry analyst at Group’s research institute, as saying, “Chinese tourists have made great contributions to travel in Asia, and the absence of Chinese tourists in the past several years has made it difficult for Asian tourism to rise. With the relaxation of outbound travel and preferential prices, it is believed that some Asian countries will take the lead in welcoming the attention of Chinese tourists. The release of the new regulations ensures a smoother cross-border travel, which will effectively mobilize tourists’ willingness to travel.”

It is worth noting that there are still some restrictions on visa applications in the short term. Group said that current passports are still mainly issued for business, studying abroad, visiting relatives and other needs. Most overseas countries have opened visa processing, but due to the pandemic in China, many consulates are short of staff.

Even so, the enthusiasm of Chinese citizens for outbound travel is still high. According to Group’s data, since December 7, the number of overseas visa applicants has increased by more than 12 times compared with the same period of last year, and Singapore, Japan, South Korea, the United States, Britain, and Australia are their destinations.

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However, when China lifted the controls for international arrivals, some countries began to increase the requirements for nucleic acid detection for travelers from China. India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare announced on December 24 that international travelers from mainland China, Hong Kong, Japan, Thailand and South Korea must bring RT-PCR test reports when traveling to India, and those who are found to have symptoms or positive for COVID-19 will be quarantined. In addition, from December 24, India will take 2% of passengers on every international flight for random nucleic acid testing.

South Korea’s Disease Control and Prevention Agency added China to its list of what it termed “target inspection” countries on December 16, which requires stricter screening at Incheon Airport.

According to Viaggiare Sicuri, the website of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, from December 24, all passengers from China (regardless of nationality) will undergo nucleic acid testing. This policy will be temporarily implemented until January 30, 2023, and will be re-evaluated at that date.