BEIJING (Reuters) – China said on Tuesday it will no longer require travelers entering the country to show a negative PCR test for the coronavirus, another step toward reopening after a long period of pandemic-era isolation.
But it was not clear whether the testing requirements would be completely eliminated. A spokeswoman for China’s foreign ministry said only that starting Saturday, people bound for China “can” take an antigen test “to replace” the previously imposed PCR test within 48 hours before boarding their flight.
Company spokeswoman Mao Ning will not check the test results before boarding the plane added at a regularly scheduled news briefing. She did not say whether others, such as immigration officials, would check.
Notices of Chinese embassies abroad said that travelers arriving in China would still need to fill out a health declaration form, and that customs officials Will conduct indefinite spot checks.
For three years, China imposed the world’s strictest coronavirus restrictions, requiring lockdowns and regular mass testing in the name of “zero Covid”. Then the government abruptly abandoned those rules in December as the economy faltered, the virus spread far and wide, and protests erupted across the country. Beijing has since declared itself open to the world, and has tried to woo foreign businessmen and diplomats.
In practice, reopening has slowed in part due to geopolitical tensions. Tourist visas have not been reinstated Until last month. International flights are still very expensive for many, often costing thousands of dollars. The United States and China have yet to lift the caps they imposed on roads between their countries during the pandemic.
Testing requirements have also become politicized. In January, as the coronavirus spread widely across China, several countries, including the United States, Japan and South Korea, announced mandatory tests for travelers arriving from China. China, in response, multiplied regarding its requirement for travelers from those countries – and suspended the issuance of some visas to Japanese and South Koreans. (South Korea has also suspended some visas for Chinese travelers.)
The United States, Japan and South Korea no longer require any pre-tests for travelers arriving from China, but China did not change its rules as of Tuesday.
Meanwhile, travelers from other countries to China have been allowed to take antigen tests.
A day before the rule change was announced, Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, had called for the removal of the PCR test requirement, noting that it was expensive and time-consuming for many travelers, and it was. Motivated by “the predominance of geopolitical considerations”.
“The rule cannot be justified on public health grounds, and it alienates overseas Chinese, hinders China’s tourism industry, and hinders China’s post-Covid reopening efforts,” Mr. Huang wrote in the official gazette. blog post on the New York-based council’s website.
China has insisted all along that its Covid measures were only science-driven. In her announcement, Ms. Mao, a spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry, said that China would “continue to improve its bases scientifically”.