In a milestone towards ending COVID-19 restrictions since 2020, incoming travellers to China will no longer need a negative test from Wednesday. Beijing had imposed severe restrictions on the movement of people since the viral outbreak as part of its 'zero COVID' policy, including full-city lockdowns and lengthy quarantines.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin announced the decision at a briefing on Monday. The strict regulations had slowed down China's economy, leading to an increase in unemployment and rare instances of unrest in the second-largest economy.
China's zero-COVID policy
Under the 'zero COVID' policy, China introduced draconian measures that prevented most Chinese citizens from traveling abroad, limited face-to-face diplomatic exchanges and sharply reduced the number of foreigners in China for work and study. People were trapped inside offices and apartment buildings. In some cases, authorities reportedly sealed residents’ doors with wires and bolts.
China abruptly ended its 'zero COVID' policy in December, further dropping the quarantine requirement in January and expanding the list of countries its citizens can travel to. However, this led to a dramatic spike in COVID-19 infections and deaths.
Although China's National Health Commission reported as much as 60,000 COVID-related deaths between December 8 and January 12, a new US study claimed that over two million people succumbed to the virus within two months following the ease in restrictions, NBC News reported.
Since the easing of restrictions, China has stopped tracking the virus, leading to speculations of underreporting of COVID-19 data. Beijing still maintains that it has been sharing COVID data in "a timely, open and transparent manner in accordance with the law."
Prior to December last year, protests emerged in major cities including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Nanjing over the strict COVID-19 curbs, representing the the most direct challenge to the Communist Party’s rule since the Tiananmen protests of 1989, with some even calling on President Xi Jinping to resign.
(with agency inputs)