China began loosening its COVID restrictions last December, which brought about a surge in COVID cases in the country. Recently China further relaxed its COVID travel requirements and lifted the mandatory quarantine, which was met with different reactions from around the world.
China lifted its mandatory quarantine requirement on Sunday for travelers coming from abroad. The new policy marks a change to strict COVID measures that lasted for three years in China.
Many travelers celebrated the relief of not having to go through strict quarantine requirements.
"I come back from England, well, my family is all here, for Chinese New Year. And it has been for three years, its been too long. I'm so happy to be back, and breathe Chinese air," said Li Hua a traveler from the UK.
Anita, a traveler from Poland said she was happy to visit family and return to China where she works.
"I have been working in China for four years, and after three years I had a chance to go to Europe and return to Beijing without any quarantine, any restrictions, so that's all, I just visited my family and spent Christmas time in my country," she said.
The loosening of COVID restrictions which started last December brought about a surge in COVID cases in China. However, the World Health Organization last week found no new variants coming from the mainland.
Hans Kluge, Regional Director for the WHO's European region said no new variants are coming from China.
"From the information available to WHO, the surge of two virus variants circulating in China are those that have already been seen in Europe and elsewhere," Kluge said. "We share the current view of the European Centre for Disease Control, ECDC, that an ongoing surge in China is not anticipated to significantly impact the COVID-19 epidemiological situation in the WHO European Region at this time."
The loosening of cross-border travel restriction was met with mixed reactions from different countries. Some were very welcoming to Chinese tourists. Others like the UK, Australia, Canada, France and the U.S. are requiring a negative COVID test for travelers from China.
While countries like Japan and South Korea took more stringent actions.
South Korea announced last week a pause on issuing tourist visas for those coming from China. Social media posts show Chinese in South Korea given yellow cards to hang around their necks upon arrival. Japan is limiting flights from China to some Japanese cities and also requiring a negative COVID test for travelers from China.
China in return found the move to be discriminatory.
“A handful of countries, in disregard of science, facts and their actual epidemic situation, have insisted on taking discriminatory entry restriction measures targeting China. China made reciprocal responses in light of the actual discriminatory measures taken by these countries against China," said Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin.
"This is to safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of our citizens and maintain the necessary environment for normal exchanges and cooperation between countries, which is legitimate and reasonable.”
China has now restricted short-term visa issuances to South Korean and Japanese citizens in retaliation.