BEIJING: China has reduced the time travelers and close contacts of infected people must spend in quarantine, a significant calibration of the Covid Zero policy that has isolated the world’s second largest economy and angered the public.
Travelers to China will be required to spend five days in a hotel or government quarantine facility, followed by three days confined at home, according to a statement from the National Health Commission on Friday. The current rules require a total of 10 days quarantine, with one week in a hotel and then three days at home.
The same shortened quarantine length will now also be applied to close contacts of infected people, minimizing the disruptive practice of contact tracing that has seen millions thrown into centralized facilities as authorities rush to stamp out the spread. Close contacts of close contacts will no longer be identified, the statement added.
In another boon for international travel connections, a controversial system that penalizes airlines for bringing cases of the virus into the country will also be scrapped, the statement said.
Bloomberg News reported in October and November that officials were discussing those changes.
The suite of changes is the most sweeping overhaul of China’s virus approach since the pandemic began, and potentially marks the start of the country’s decision to join a world living with the virus. Chinese stock indicators extended their rally on the news, while the yuan strengthened and commodities surged.
While the restricted rules still include the most onerous virus control regime in the world, the fact that the relaxation comes at a time when Covid cases across the country have reached a six-month high, with major outbreaks in Guangzhou and Beijing, reflects an unmistakable shift in President Xi Jinping’s zero-tolerance stance.
Friday’s statement included a number of other relaxed guidelines: Only one pre-departure PCR test will now be required for travelers attempting to enter China, up from two previously. And in the face of outbreaks, local authorities are urged to avoid citywide mass testing unless the chains of transmission are unclear.
The shift comes as China’s top governing body issued instructions on Thursday for a more focused and decisive approach to Covid, raising hopes the country is moving away from a strategy that has taken a heavy social and economic toll. .

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