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China eases COVID measures, cutting quarantine and scrapping flight bans

BEIJING, November 14 ------ China announced the relaxation of some of its hardline COVID-19 restrictions, after authorities had vowed to stick to a zero-tolerance virus approach despite mounting economic damage.

The country is the last major economy welded to a strategy of stamping out virus flare-ups as they occur, through a combination of snap lockdowns, mass testing and lengthy quarantines. Top leaders had pledged to stick "unswervingly" to the policy, which has forced business closures, roiled international supply chains and weighed heavily on growth. But a notice from the country's disease control agency said the Politburo Standing Committee -- the apex of power in China -- met to rubberstamp limited relaxations.

According to the notice, quarantines for inbound travelers will be cut from 10 days to 8, consisting of 5 days in a state isolation center and 3 days at home. Inbound arrivals will still be required to undergo 6 nucleic acid tests and will not be allowed to freely set foot outside during those 8 days, the notice says. It adds that travelers will only be required to show one negative COVID test within 48 hours of boarding flights to China, a reduction from the current 2 tests.

The new rules single out "important business personnel" and "sports groups" as examples of privileged groups permitted to skip quarantine as long as they remain in a virus-secure "closed loop" for the duration of their stays. It added that a so-called "circuit breaker" mechanism on inbound flights would be abolished, bringing an end to a policy that saw the snap closures of flight routes if a certain proportion of passengers tested positive for the virus.

In further signs of easing, the notice did away with the requirement to identify and isolate "secondary close contacts" -- those who may have come into contact with people who recently passed near infected people. A domestic virus risk system has been reduced from three tiers to two, with areas to be labelled as either "high-risk" and subject to curbs, or "low-risk" with minimal restrictions. People travelling from high- to low-risk areas will be required to undergo seven days of isolation at home, instead of staying in centralized facilities.

Places will be defined as "low-risk" if they record zero new infections for five successive days. Workers in environments where exposure to the virus is higher -- such as cabin crews, airport staff and quarantine hotel personnel -- will undergo shortened quarantines, the notice said.



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