International flight searches soar in China as rules ease despite Covid surge

Beijing, Dec 27 (EFE).- Online searches for flights soared in China after authorities announced that inbound travelers would no longer need to undergo quarantine from January 8 although some health officials on Tuesday raised their concerns over a surge in Covid-19 infections.

China’s National Health Commission on Monday downgraded Covid-19 from a category A disease to a category B one as the nation continued to dismantle many of the strict zero tolerance policies in place since March 2020. NHC experts warned Tuesday that a rapid spike in infections was likely a result of relaxing the rules.

The latest policy change was the removal of quarantine on travelers arriving from overseas, set to come into effect on January 8, as well as the scrapping of international air traffic limits.

For the last two years air traffic has been reduced to less than 5% of what it was before the pandemic, but the lifting of restrictions has triggered a surge in searches for international flights to destinations like Japan, South Korea and Thailand.

Japanese officials on Tuesday said they would require visiting Chinese nationals to provide a negative PCR test before entering the country.

Searches on the Qunar online platform, China’s most popular travel agency, grew seven-fold within just 15 minutes after the official announcement.

Several international airlines, including Qatar Airways, KLM and Air France, recently announced that they would increase the frequency of flights to and from several Chinese cities like Hangzhou, Shanghai, Tianjin and Chengdu, the state-run Global Times reported.

The Chinese aviation industry has been severely bruised by the pandemic, losing out on an estimated $15 billion as of September 2022.

The new travel rules outlined by Beijing, which are due to come into effect just before the Lunar New Year, were welcomed by many Chinese living overseas.

But amid the excitement, NHC official Lei Zhenglong warned that the policy changes would lead to a rapid increase of Covid-19 infections and demand for medicine, according to the Global Times.

Lei said the “use of masks”, a positive attitude and a boost in medical supplies were required to guarantee the growing demand.

A shortage of medicines, which has caused a 300% spike in prices, has proven to be one of the key problems that Beijiing has faced in recent weeks, according to various media reports.

Another concern is that health centers and hospitals will be flooded with cases, prompting the NHC to recommend that healthcare institutions increase their reserves of medical staff and resources in densely populated areas.

The head of the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention Li Qun said China would “closely follow the international and national situation” of the pandemic while monitoring and analyzing virus mutations to “optimize policies and measures for the prevention and control of epidemics.”

In early December, the Chinese government announced that the “conditions” were in place for the country to adjust its measures to face a “new situation” in which the virus causes fewer deaths.

The lifting of restrictions has triggered a wave of infections, with some provinces dealing with millions per day, experts say. Chinese authorities suspended their daily Covid-19 infection reports over the weekend.

Last week, the World Health Organization said it was “very concerned” about the evolution of the disease in China and raised the alarm over the fact Beijing health authorities were no longer reporting on Covid-19 data.

China’a foreign affairs ministry said that Beijing had been sharing data in an open, punctual and transparent way since the start of the pandemic. EFE


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