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10 January 20239 minute read

China lifts border control restrictions in major step toward reopening

China has banned the entry of most foreign nationals due to COVID-19 outbreak since 28 March 2020. After sticking to the zero-tolerance COVID-19 policy for almost three years, China has taken decisive steps towards “living with the virus” and decided to remove some of its most stringent travel restriction measures recently.

On 26 December 2022, China’s National Health Commission (NHC) released a circular, stating that China will “improve management of personnel exchanges between China and foreign countries”. Specifically speaking, China will implement the following measures starting from 8 January 2023:

  • Inbound travelers to China will no longer need to apply for a health code from Chinese embassies or consulates, though a negative nucleic acid test from the last 48 hours will still be required.
  • Nucleic acid tests and centralised quarantine for all inbound travelers will be canceled.
  • Measures to control the number of international passenger flights, including the “five-one” policy (in which every foreign airline was required to maintain only one air route to China and operate no more than one flight a week) and the passenger load factor limit, will be lifted.
  • China will further optimise arrangements for foreigners returning to China for work resumption, business, study, family visits, and reunions, and provide visa facilities accordingly.

Previously, inbound travelers must quarantine for five days at a hotel, followed by three days at home. That is down from as much as three weeks in the past. The scrapping of the quarantine requirement is a major step toward fully reopening travel with the rest of the world. Furthermore, based on the announcement published by China’s National Health Commission (NHC) on 26 December 2022, China would manage COVID-19 as a Class B infectious disease starting from 8 January 2023, which means that just like mainland China local residents, inbound travelers are no longer required to take COVID test regularly; COVID-19 infections can select to be handled at home rather than through isolation-based therapy and surveillance; close contact or secondary close contact will not be subject to any quarantine; and the inbound travelers’ location data will no longer be traced. 

Currently, a daily quota of 60,000 Hong Kong residents is allowed to enter the mainland in the first phase of border reopening from 8 January, while no such quota applies to foreigners, Macao or Taiwan residents.

These newly published policies have been welcomed by many businesses that have struggled under almost three years of strict lockdowns and travel restrictions. With China resuming normal visas policy and scraping the COVID quarantine rule for inbound travelers, foreign nationals can travel to China much more conveniently. Foreign investors and overseas head offices who have had difficulties in managing and administering their China subsidiaries can now rebuild closer relationships with their China managers and employees. Foreign investors and businesses who are planning to enter China can now observe and look into this market more closely and take steps to progress their business plans on the ground. And foreign nationals who want to travel to China for tourism or family visits can now check for flight tickets.

Nevertheless, given the ongoing pandemic, the easing of curbs on entry into China does not mean the easing of disease control. Travelers are advised to take primary responsibility for their health, use precautionary measures for self-protection and double check the latest polices in departure and arrival cities.