China’s zero-tolerance Covid policy two years on

Beijing, Mar 28 (EFE).- Two years after China closed its borders to most foreign visitors as part of a strict ‘zero Covid’ policy to stem the contagion, there is still no sign of restrictions being eased anytime soon.

Since the pandemic hit in late 2019, Chinese authorities limited international air traffic to 2% of pre-pandemic operations and imposed a mandatory two-week quarantine for the few foreigners allowed to enter the country.

But what started as a “temporary” measure is still in force two years later.

“My family and I left China in early February 2020. We felt the best decision was to return to Spain and spend a month there. We thought it was the safest thing to do and that we would have a normal life,” a former Spanish resident in China, Enrique, who requested anonymity, told Efe.

Enrique managed to work remotely for his company in China for the first few months until, with no return in sight, was forced to quit.


International air connections to China dropped by 97%, with 139 million flights recorded in 2019 compared to just over 3 million in 2021, according to data from the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CACC).

China has also been penalizing airlines whose flights recorded positive cases upon arrival, suspending flights for several weeks.

Passengers traveling to China not only have to undergo a two-week quarantine upon arrival but must arrive on a direct flight and provide proof of a negative PCR test, which spikes travel prices.

The package of restrictions has meant that people like Enrique have very few options to return to China.

“In August 2020, I got a work visa, but we didn’t want to go through all the restrictions with a child under two years old,” Enrique said.

Restoring pre-pandemic mobility could lead to 234 million infections in a year and up to two million deaths worldwide, according to a study by the China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Chinese authorities also suspended the issuance of new passports to its population, discouraging people to leave the country.

While the tight border controls have limited the number of infections, the isolation has equally limited China’s cultural, commercial and personal exchanges with the world.

“In the end, I lost my job in China and found another job in Spain, in a totally different sector. I have rebuilt my life,” said Enrique.


Chinese epidemiologist Zhang Wenhong said the pandemic was still “years away” from being brought under control and that the Olympic Winter Games bubble offered “valuable” experience.

During the Beijing Winter Games, authorities created a bubble in which athletes and participants were completely isolated from the local population.

Meanwhile, CACC announced in January that the 2023-2025 period will be one of growth and restoration for the international travel sector, despite authorities maintaining a zero-tolerance Covid policy.

But people like Enrique have given up on returning to China.

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