China surge: Flights in and out soar after Beijing loosens COVID restrictions

Virus Outbreak China Party Congress
A man has his throat swabbed for a COVID-19 test at a coronavirus testing site in Beijing, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2022. As China’s ruling Communist Party holds a major congress this week, many Beijing residents are wondering if the end of the meeting will bring any easing of China’s draconian “zero-COVID” policies that are disrupting lives and the economy. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein) Mark Schiefelbein/AP

China surge: Flights in and out soar after Beijing loosens COVID restrictions

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The number of flight bookings in and out of mainland China has increased significantly over the last week, just days after the country announced it would lift COVID-19 restrictions for travelers.

The number of airline tickets flying out of China increased 254% on Tuesday morning compared to the day before, according to flight data by Trip.com Group — marking a significant increase less than 24 hours after the China National Health Commission announced it would rein in several of the country’s strictest COVID-19 protocols.

CHINA TO END QUARANTINE REQUIREMENTS FOR TRAVELERS DESPITE SURGE IN COVID CASES

The loosened restrictions will end the country’s requirements for travelers to quarantine for eight days upon arrival beginning on Jan. 8, reversing the policy that has been in place for nearly three years since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The health commission also announced it would ease restrictions on the number of incoming flights on any given day, prompting the surge in ticket sales.

For Chinese travelers seeking to leave the country, airlines saw a massive increase in ticket sales for flights bound for Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, and Thailand, according to the data.

The country also saw a massive surge of inbound flights, which increased 412% during the same time period, the data show. The majority of those out-of-country travelers are coming from Australia, Germany, Japan, Singapore, and Hong Kong.

The policy reversal is the latest move from the Chinese government to do away with its “zero COVID” restrictions implemented in early 2020 that saw some of the strictest public health rules of any country during the pandemic.

Chinese officials began loosening these restrictions in late November amid widespread protests in the country, as residents claimed the COVID-19 lockdown protocols hindered rescue efforts in a recent fire that killed 10 people.

It also comes, however, as China grapples with a massive surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths in recent weeks. Although officials have stopped publishing daily COVID-19 data, some experts predict 1 million coronavirus-related deaths over the next several months due to eased restrictions.

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The lifting of the quarantine requirements comes as Chinese officials also announced they would reclassify COVID-19 from a Category A infectious disease, which warrants extensive restrictions, to Category B, putting it in the same category as AIDS and the bird flu. It’s unclear if or how this could affect China’s reporting of cases and deaths. Experts have already voiced concerns with Beijing’s methods.

China’s policy reversals prompted concern among U.S. officials, who are considering implementing some COVID-19 restrictions on people traveling from China. Japanese officials have also voiced concerns, with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announcing on Tuesday that Japan would begin requiring negative COVID-19 tests for travelers from China beginning Dec. 30.

© 2022 Washington Examiner

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