Many people might still be unaware of China’s ‘Zero COVID’ policy, but while the rest of the world has opened its doors to tourists and relaxed COVID measures for its residents, China has still been implementing aggressive contact tracing, regular testing, forced quarantine and strict lockdown measures to prevent COVID transmission.
On Friday, China eased some of these COVID rules, which include shortening quarantines from seven days to five days for close contacts of people who tested positive and ending a ‘circuit breaker’ for airlines, where airlines were penalized by suspending flights when they brought in too many COVID-infected passengers.
The country is still not issuing tourist visas for travel and only allowing foreign nationals with valid residence permits and select visas to enter the country under very strict conditions. Even though the easing of these restrictions represents a milestone for China as its most significant step toward ending its Zero-COVID policy, reopening is a long way off, and the easing of these restrictions is likely not enough to entice people back, especially when you compare how its neighboring countries have opened to tourists.
Currently, all international travelers, including those who have a residence in China, need to complete quarantine at a government-selected facility or a hotel at their own expense, and they have no control over the amenities. China has built specific COVID-isolation centers, some of which can accommodate up to 14,000 people, and close contacts have been known to stay there for ten days as of recently.
Inbound travelers do not get to decide where they will carry out their quarantine, with isolation centers being described as similar to a prison. Financial Times correspondent, Thomas Hale, wrote about his ten-day experience in one of these isolation centers and detailed his bed as an iron frame with six planks of wood and “a mattress so thin that you had to lie perfectly flat.”
“Although we were supposed to stay in our rooms, we were sometimes able to go outside briefly and, before the camera raised an alarm, exchange information and sometimes goods with other residents. These moments were the best hope for at least some clarity. One day this led to a miracle – I got instant coffee,” Thomas Hale writes.
The new easing of restrictions reduces the quarantine of stays like these to five days, but then an additional three days of isolation must be carried out at home. China has also dropped to one PCR testing ahead of boarding instead of two within the 48-hour timeframe.
The need to identify “secondary contacts” from China’s contract tracing network has been removed, which required people in contact with a close contact of someone positive to quarantine. The country is at an almost 90% vaccination rate but with wide and mandated testing still in place, the country has recorded the highest case numbers since April, with Beijing and the central city of Zhengzhou hitting a record.
As cases rise, cities implement tightened measures and reintroduce strict lockdowns to control the spread. It has been documented and shared how the country has implemented some of the strictest and quickest lockdowns, where residents are unable to leave their homes for food, medical supplies, or other necessities.
Guangzhou is currently in lockdown due to a surge of reported COVID cases, where “only one person in each household is allowed to buy daily necessities on a staggered schedule,” the government of one of Guangzhou’s 11 districts said.
Residents in #Shanghai screaming from high rise apartments after 7 straight days of the city lockdown. The narrator worries that there will be major problems. (in Shanghainese dialect—he predicts people can’t hold out much longer—he implies tragedy).pic.twitter.com/jsQt6IdQNh— Eric Feigl-Ding (@DrEricDing) April 10, 2022
Regular COVID testing is often mandated in Chinese cities, and people who want to go to supermarkets and other public buildings are required to show a negative test result in a form of a QR code, taken as often as once a day.
According to the AP, many experts believe that China will unlikely open before its March session of parliament, so if you are considering visiting China, be prepared for tight and lengthy quarantine measures on arrival and anticipate additional quarantining and lockdowns, as regulations have been known to change very quickly.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com