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China reopens borders after three years of quarantine

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BEIJING: China lifted quarantine requirements for inbound travellers on Sunday, ending almost three years of self-imposed isolation even as the country battles a surge in Covid cases.

The first people to arrive expressed relief at not having to undergo the gruelling quarantines that were a fixture of life in zero-Covid China. And in Hong Kong, where the border with mainland China was re-opened after years of closure, more than 400,000 people were set to travel north in the coming eight weeks.

Beijing last month began a dramatic dismantling of a hardline zero-Covid strategy that had enforced mandatory quarantines and punishing lockdowns.

The policy had a huge impact on the world’s second-biggest economy and generated resentment throughout society that led to nationwide protests just before it was eased.

At Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport, a woman surnamed Pang said on Sunday she was thrilled with the ease of travel.

“I think it’s really good that the policy has changed now, it’s really humane,” she added.

“It’s a necessary step I think. Covid has become normalised now and after this hurdle everything will be smooth,” she said.

Chinese people rushed to plan trips abroad after officials last month announced that quarantine would be dropped, sending inquiries on popular travel websites soaring. But the expected surge in visitors has led more than a dozen countries to impose mandatory Covid tests on travellers from the world’s most populous nation.

China has called travel curbs imposed by other countries “unacceptable”, despite continuing to largely block foreign tourists and international students from travelling to the country.

China’s Covid outbreak is forecast to worsen as it enters the Lunar New Year holiday this month, during which millions are expected to travel from hard-hit megacities to the countryside to visit vulnerable older relatives.

Published in Dawn, January 9th, 2023

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