Families rejoice after years of separation as China ends inbound quarantine
China’s partial reopening has been met with an outpouring of joy and relief from citizens — both the hundreds of millions isolated inside the country for the past three years and those overseas separated from their loved ones.
Authorities announced Monday that starting January 8, China will drop quarantine requirements for all international arrivals, its most significant move yet in transitioning away from its stringent zero-Covid policy.
The border remains largely closed to foreigners, apart from a limited number of business or family visits — though the government signaled Monday this could loosen, too.
For many Chinese nationals abroad, who have been unable to return or unwilling to endure the lengthy quarantine, the news meant they could finally go home — a bittersweet victory after much sacrifice.
Those within China are also celebrating and anticipating outbound travel. Most have not left the country for several years and are now flooding booking sites to plan long-awaited vacations.
Online searches for outbound flights and overseas hotels jumped to a three-year peak on Trip.com, a Chinese travel booking website, according to company data. Searches for popular destinations increased tenfold within half an hour of the announcement, with many people searching for outbound group tours during the Lunar New Year holiday season in late January, data shows.
Macao, Hong Kong, Japan, Thailand, South Korea, the United States and the United Kingdom were among the website’s top 10 destinations with the fastest growth in search volume since the announcement.
But the border relaxations have sparked concern among some as China fights its most severe wave of Covid infections since the pandemic began.
Cases have skyrocketed since China abandoned zero-Covid, with empty streets and packed hospital wards. When CNN visited a Beijing crematorium last week, cars lined up to enter, filled with grieving family members who had been waiting more than a day to cremate loved ones who died of Covid.
Last Friday, Bloomberg News and the Financial Times reported that almost 250 million people in China may have caught Covid in the first 20 days of December, a figure presented during an internal meeting of China’s National Health Commission, according to both outlets. They cited sources familiar with the matter or involved in the discussions.
If correct, the estimate — which CNN cannot independently confirm — would account for roughly 18% of China’s 1.4 billion people and represent the largest Covid-19 outbreak to date globally.
“I feel like right now, it’s totally a mess,” said the Chinese national in New York. “Everybody is sick. So, at least I think right now, it’s not the best time to visit my family. Maybe two or three months later.”
Some overseas destinations are also on guard. Officials in Italy’s northern Lombardy region have asked Milan’s Malpensa airport — one of the country’s largest international airports — to conduct PCR tests for all arrivals from China from now until the end of January.
India, which borders China, has ordered travelers from China and several other countries to show proof of a negative Covid test on arrival. And Japan announced Friday that travelers from mainland China, or who had been in China within a week, would be tested for Covid upon entry. In both India and Japan, those found positive upon arrival will be required to quarantine.
But for many Chinese nationals, hungry for travel and reunion, the overwhelming emotion remains relief.