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China cuts travel quarantine in biggest COVID zero shift yet

Bloomberg News, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

China reduced quarantine times for inbound travelers by half, the biggest shift yet in a COVID-19 policy that has left the world’s second-largest economy isolated as it continues to try and eliminate the virus.

Travelers will now only need to spend seven days in a quarantine facility, and then monitor their health at home for a further three days, according to a revised government protocol released Tuesday by China’s National Health Commission. That’s down from 14 days hotel quarantine in many parts of China currently, and as many as 21 days of isolation in the past.

The change, which still leaves China an outlier in a world that has mostly adjusted to living with the virus, comes after Beijing and Shanghai said they had no new locally-transmitted COVID infections on Monday, for the first time since February, following months of bruising curbs.

Nationwide, China reported just 22 cases on Monday, a stark contrast to other parts of the world that are seeing thousands of new infections a day. There were another 78 infections detected among incoming travelers.

Investors used to hearing about tighter internal restrictions the world’s No. 2 economy were buoyed by the news, with travel-related stocks leading an afternoon rally. But Chinese officials said the decision was not a sign of reopening, and based solely on the shorter incubation period of the omicron variant.

The new rules are designed to optimize the country’s prevention and control work, and don’t signal a change in course, said Lei Zhenglong, an NHC official.

 

“It’s absolutely not loosening up, but a more scientific and targeted approach,” Lei said at an afternoon briefing.

Nevertheless, it’s President Xi Jinping’s biggest concession yet to investors and businesses anxious over the country’s growing isolation. China’s leaders are also permitting the travel easing from a position of strength, after declaring victory over the spring outbreak and pronouncing the brutal measures used to quash it as “completely correct.”

COVID restrictions have crushed economic activity, with economists expecting second-quarter gross domestic product growth to weaken to just 1.5% from a year ago. The slow recovery and threat of repeat disruptions from lockdowns and other restrictions have pushed the government growth target of about 5.5% for 2022 further out of reach. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg predict GDP growth of 4.2% this year, well below the target.

The timing of the quarantine reduction coincides with reports that the People’s Bank of China is pledging to keep monetary policy supportive, said Jane Foley, a London-based strategist at Rabobank.

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