China eases its “zero-Covid” policy with shorter quarantines and fewer restrictions

China on Friday announced steps to ease its “dynamic zero COVID” policy by shortening quarantine requirements, simplifying travel rules, and adjusting its monitoring and control regime.

The announcement comes a day after the country's top leaders recommitted to the “zero COVID” policy but also called for improvements.

On Friday, the National Health Commission said “optimizing and adjusting” the rules do not amount to a relaxation of prevention and control measures, but the latest steps were being taken “to adapt the new characteristics of the virus and the new COVID prevention situation,” it said.

Beijing's tough COVID-19 control policies have led to a seemingly never-ending string of lockdowns around the country, including several under way in major cities as cases rise. The lockdowns and travel restrictions have also hurt China's economy and engendered a deep sense of frustration in a swath of the populace.

Chinese stocks rose on the news, and Guangdong province, one of the most populous in the country, announced it's immediately enacting the changes.

Major changes for inbound travelers are:

  • Hotel quarantine will be cut to five days from seven. Travelers will still be required to isolate at home (or additional quarantine for those without a registered address in China).
  • Only requiring one negative PCR test within 48 hours of boarding a flight to China instead of two.
  • Raising the threshold for counting a PCR test as positive.

Key domestic changes:

  • For close contacts, centralized quarantine is cut to five days from seven, with three days of home isolation still required.
  • Secondary contacts — that is, close contacts of people labeled close contacts of positive cases — will no longer have to undergo quarantine or medical surveillance.
  • Residents traveling from high-risk areas to other parts of the country will no longer have to spend seven days in quarantine and instead can spend the same period in home isolation.
  • The government will crack down on arbitrary lockdowns and punish those responsible.

The government reported 10,535 new domestically transmitted cases on Thursday, the highest in months, and the authorities girded for the situation to worsen.

The National Health Commission warned that the epidemic “is likely to further expand in scope and scale” due to mutations and weather factors in the winter and spring.

“We must maintain our strategic determination and conduct epidemic control properly and with scientific precision,” it said.

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