On Friday November 11th, authorities in China announced the easing of some restrictions against Covid, especially those linked to international travel. China is the last major world economy to maintain a “zero Covid” strategy, with confinements, mass testing and quarantines disrupting business and supply chains.
At a meeting of the Standing Committee of the Communist Party’s Political Bureau, President Xi Jinping and the six other members of the country’s most powerful body approved scaling back some of these measures.
According to the government announcement released on November 11th, they decreed to reduce the quarantine period for travelers entering the country from ten to eight days (five in state-run isolation centers and three at home). During this time, incoming travelers will have to undergo six PCR tests and will not be able to go out freely, the government said.
They will only have to present one negative PCR test conducted within 48 hours prior to boarding a plane to China instead of the current two. These new rules allow “important business personnel” and “sports groups” to avoid quarantine as long as they remain in a “closed circuit” for the duration of their stay.
1. Flights and circuit breaker mechanism
Sources close to the Chinese government have confirmed to Bloomberg that a plan is being prepared to end these strict flight bans. According to them, the Stated Council, the body that supervises the country’s bureaucracy, has asked the civil aviation regulator, among other government agencies, to prepare for ending the “circuit-breaker” mechanism.
The people, who asked to remain anonymous, revealed a three-step plan for bringing China’s aviation industry back to normal. The first step seems to have already been implemented, allowing more international flights allowed back into the country. Beijing International Airport reopened to international traffic on 25 July and China’s Civil Aviation Administration (CAAC) has revealed the country will more than double international passenger flights from October to March compared to the same period in 2021. China Eastern Airlines Corp. and China Southern Airlines Corp. have confirmed they are working on the increased flight schedule.
1. Easing of restrictions
China also withdrew some restrictions that disrupted the daily lives of citizens. From now on, health authorities will no longer require identification and isolation of “secondary close contacts”, i.e. people who were with direct contacts of an infected person.
They also reduced the domestic risk system for the virus from three to two levels, divided between “high-risk” areas subject to restrictions and “low-risk” areas with minimal measures. People moving from high-risk to low-risk areas will have to undergo seven days of quarantine at home instead of staying in state facilities. An area will be defined as low risk if there is no Covid infection for five consecutive days. Workers in sectors where exposure to the virus is higher, such as airline crew, quarantine center personnel or airport staff, may benefit from shorter quarantines.
On November 11th, the Ministry of Health announced 10,535 new positive cases in the last 24h most of them asymptomatic. Officially, just over 5,000 deaths were recorded in the country during the pandemic, compared to more than 1 million in the United States.
3. New contagion cases in Guangzhou
All residents in a district of 1.8 million people in the southern Chinese metropolis of Guangzhou were ordered to stay home Saturday and be tested for the coronavirus, and a major southwestern city closed schools due to a new spike in infections.
Nationwide, a total of 11,773 new positives were detected in the past 24 hours, of which 10,351 were symptom-free, the National Health Commission (NHC) said. The numbers in China are low, but the increase from last week is a challenge to the “zero Covid” protocol, which seeks to isolate all those infected.
The Communist Party said it will maintain its strict protocol even as other countries have eased travel and other restrictions and seek to focus on a long-term strategy to live with the virus. In Guangzhou, which has a population of 13 million people, a total of 3,775 infections were detected, including 2,996 without symptoms, according to the NHA. The figure is an increase from 3,030 cases the previous day, with 2,461 asymptomatic.
Residents in Guangzhou’s Haizhu district were ordered Saturday to stay home while screening is carried out, the area government announced on its social media account. One member of each household can go out to buy food.
Guangzhou, 120 kilometers (75 miles) north of Hong Kong, has closed schools and suspended bus and subway service in much of the city in the face of rising contagions. Flights to the capital, Beijing, and other major cities have been canceled.
Across the country, people wishing to enter supermarkets, offices and other public buildings must test negative in the once-daily screening tests. This allows authorities to detect contagion in people without symptoms.
In the southwest, the industrial city of Chongqing closed schools in the Beibei district, which has 840,000 residents. In the Yubei district, residents were unable to leave a number of apartment complexes, but the city did not provide a number of people affected.
Access to the Zhengzhou industrial zone that houses the world’s largest iPhone assembly plant was suspended last week because of the outbreaks. Apple Inc. warned of possible delays in the delivery of its new iPhone 14.
Despite efforts to ease the effects of the restrictions on the world’s second-largest economy, analysts point to weakening business and consumer activity after growth rose to 3.9% from a year earlier in the quarter ended September from 2.2% in the first half of the year. Economists have lowered their annual growth forecast for China to 3%, which would be one of the lowest in decades.