Despite a surge in Covid-19 cases, China announced an end to quarantine travel periods, causing the U.S. and other nations to consider placing travel restrictions on people coming from the world’s most populous country.
China began rolling back its “zero-Covid” policy earlier this month in a head-spinning reversal with international repercussions. The BBC reported Tuesday that Chinese officials announced Covid travel restrictions would end in January, making international travel easier for Chinese citizens and setting off alarm bells for other countries.
The loosening of restrictions comes as the country battles a rise in COVID-19 infections. The World Health Organization reports in the last seven days China has had 159,232 confirmed cases and 76 deaths. However, China has stopped reporting data amid the surge.
“There are mounting concerns in the international community on the ongoing Covid-19 surges in China and the lack of transparent data, including viral genomic sequence data,” said U.S. officials in a statement on Tuesday. “Without this data, it is becoming increasingly difficult for public health officials to ensure that they will be able to identify any potential new variants and take prompt measures to reduce the spread.”
Passport applications will become available on Jan. 8, according to the country’s immigration authority. That leaves little time for the U.S. and other nations to implement potential travel bans and policies in the wake of China’s dramatic about-face on Covid.
The pandemic originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, starting almost three years of strict lockdowns and quarantine across the country as the virus spread worldwide. China was largely spared mass outbreaks until recently due to the zero-COVID policy.
In October, Chinese President Xi Jinping reinforced the country’s commitment to lockdown measures. However, rare nationwide public protests and adverse economic effects motivated the government to roll back on restrictions this month.
China’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Wang Wenbin, said western countries were “hyping up” the Chinese Covid policy changes. Wang said the international news coverage was “distorting” facts and that China’s revised policy is still “science-based,” the BBC reports.
Other countries have said they will require negative COVID-19 tests from travelers from China upon entry, with Japan starting on Dec. 30. Travelers from China without a vaccination certificate will also need to test upon leaving the country. Those traveling from Hong Kong and Macau will be exempt. Taiwan announced it would begin testing travelers entering from China on Jan. 1.
The BBC reports that travel sites have seen a sharp increase in traffic since China announced its new travel measures, as many plans to leave or enter the country for the first time in almost three years.