China eases quarantine, flight bans in Covid Zero pivot

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CHINA reduced the amount of time travellers 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 raised public ire.

Travellers into China will be required to spend five days in a hotel or government quarantine facility, followed by three days confined to home, according to a National Health Commission statement on Friday (Nov 11). The current rules require 10 days of quarantine in total, with a 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, minimising the disruptive practice of contact tracing that has seen millions thrown into centralised facilities when officials race to stamp outspread. Close contacts of close contacts will now no longer be identified, added the statement.

In a further boon to international travel links, a controversial system that penalises airlines for bringing virus cases into the country will also be scrapped, the statement said.

Bloomberg News reported in October and November that officials were discussing these changes.

The suite of changes is the furthest-reaching overhaul of China's virus approach since the pandemic began, and potentially marks the beginning of the country's move to rejoin a world that's living with the virus. Chinese stock gauges extended a rally on the news, while the yuan strengthened and commodities surged.

While the reined-in rules still comprise the most onerous virus control regime in the world, the fact that the easing comes at a time when Covid cases nationwide have surged to a six-month high, with major outbreaks in Guangzhou and Beijing, reflect an unmistakable change in President Xi Jinping's zero-tolerance stance.

The Friday statement included a number of other eased guidelines: only one pre-departure PCR test will be required now for travellers attempting to enter China, down from two. And when faced with outbreaks, local officials are being asked to avoid city-wide mass testing, unless transmission chains are unclear.

The shift comes as China's top leadership body issued instructions for a more targeted, decisive approach to Covid on Thursday, raising hopes that the country is pivoting away from a strategy that's exacted an enormous social and economic toll. BLOOMBERG

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