China has ended quarantine requirements for inbound travellers despite battling a nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases.
The first passengers to arrive under the new rules landed at airports in the southern cities of Guangzhou and Shenzhen just after midnight on Sunday, according to the state-owned China Global Television Network (CGTN).
The 387 passengers on board flights from Singapore and Canada’s Toronto were not subject to COVID-19 tests on arrival and did not have to undergo five days of quarantine at centralised government facilities, it reported.
The lifting of quarantine rules marks the final unravelling of China’s strict “zero-COVID” policy.
Beijing began dismantling the hardline strategy of mandatory quarantines, gruelling lockdowns and frequent testing following historic protests against the curbs last month. But the abrupt changes have exposed many of its 1.4 billion population to the virus for the first time, triggering a wave of infections that is overwhelming some hospitals, emptying pharmacy shelves of medicines, and causing long lines to form at crematoriums.
The easing of travel curbs effectively opens the door for many Chinese to go abroad for the first time since borders slammed shut nearly three years ago, without fear of having to isolate at government facilities on their return.
But the expected surge in visitors has led more than a dozen countries to impose mandatory COVID-19 tests on travellers from China, citing concerns over Beijing’s “under-representation” of infections and deaths from the illness, as well as the potential for the emergence of new and more virulent subvariants of the coronavirus.
Beijing has called the travel curbs “unacceptable”.
Despite the testing requirements, 28-year-old Zhang Kai told the AFP news agency he is planning a trip to either South Korea or Japan.
“I am happy, now finally