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China slashes covid quarantine for travelers, but remains outlier

Passengers wait for the bus to their quarantine hotels after arriving at Pudong International Airport in Shanghai in January. (Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images)
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China has slashed its mandatory quarantine for inbound travelers and close contacts by half, in the most dramatic change to the country’s covid-19 policy since the start of the pandemic.

According to a statement released by China’s Health Commission on Tuesday, travelers and close contacts will now spend seven days in a quarantine facility and self-monitor at home for three days. In some parts of China, 21 days of isolation, sometimes across two separate locations, is still a norm. In most parts, however, quarantine was limited to 14 days.

Covid cases in the nation are comparatively low — in the double digits — yet China still remains an outlier in a world that has largely moved on from mandatory quarantine and vaccination requirements for international travelers. On Monday, the country recorded 22 cases nationwide.

In April, residents in Shanghai, China’s most populous city, were forced into a harsh lockdown — spurring a mental health crisis, leaving many without food — watching family members die while struggling to seek medical attention. Despite this, the country declared the lockdown a victory.

The change comes at a consequential time, as Chinese President Xi Jinping prepares for his first trip abroad since the start of the pandemic in March 2020. Xi is expected to attend a 25th-anniversary celebration of the British Handover in Hong Kong and also the inauguration of the city’s new chief executive, John Lee.

In an afternoon briefing, Chinese officials said the decision to change measures was not indicative of reopening but based on the omicron variant’s shorter incubation period. Officials signaled that the world’s second-largest economy had not given up on attempting to achieve “zero covid.”

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