China on Sunday has shortened the length of suspensions for inbound airline flights that carry passengers infected with Covid-19, signalling that the nation may be ready to ease virus-control measures for international travellers.

Authorities changed the so-called circuit-breaker mechanism for airline bans, cutting to 1 week the period that incoming flights will be suspended if they carry 5 Covid-positive passengers, or 4 per cent of the total, said a statement posted on the website of the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC). Flights that arrive with 8 per cent of passengers infected will be halted for 2 weeks.

China reduced quarantine times for inbound travellers by half, its biggest shift in a Covid-19 policy that has left the world’s second-largest economy isolated as it continues to try and eliminate the virus.
China is the only major economy still pursuing a zero Covid-19 approach. Photo by CGN

Epidemic Prevention and Control

The blanket bans have been a source of headaches for both airlines and passengers, with many passengers finding themselves stranded and unable to complete their trip until two weeks later. For airlines, it has also led to aircraft and crew being stranded.

“The change, starting Sunday, 7 Aug 2022, is aimed at promoting personnel exchanges between China and foreign countries, and foreign exchange and cooperation, while ‘scientifically and accurately’ achieving epidemic prevention and control”

In June, China reduced quarantine times for inbound travellers by half, its biggest shift in a Covid-19 policy that has left the world’s second-largest economy isolated as it continues to try and eliminate the virus.

In April last year, the authority said in a statement that inbound flights carrying 5 infected passengers would be banned for 2 weeks from the fourth week of arrival or control their load factor, and those flights with 10 infected arrivals would be banned for 4 weeks from the fourth week of arrival.

the government's zero-COVID policy saw sweeping lockdowns introduced after the outbreak of the Omicron variant.
Beijing’s so-called circuit breaker has caused chaos for Chinese airlines and limited market capacity. Photo by Getty Images

Zero-COVID Strategy

China is the only major economy still holding fast to a zero-Covid strategy with snap lockdowns and long quarantines.

“Although China’s aviation rebounded quickly at first due to its large domestic market, the government’s zero-COVID policy saw sweeping lockdowns introduced after the outbreak of the Omicron variant.”

The country’s borders have also remained largely closed since early 2020, halting international tourism. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese students and workers abroad have been left stranded and complained about paying exorbitant prices to buy tickets back home, with the limited number of flights entering the country routinely suspended.

China may be ready to ease virus-control measures for international travellers.
China’s easing of rules will surely help push that figure higher still. Photo by Nikkei Asia

In April, the total number of daily flights operated domestically stood at about 2,000 to 3,000, less than one-quarter of the flights recorded in the same month the year prior. However, as major hubs begin opening up, numbers are back up to over 8,000.

Hong Kong suspended a similar flight-ban system last month, raising hopes the financial hub will lift travel curbs.

China’s easing of rules will surely help push that figure higher still.

What do you think of China’s latest move? Let us know in the comments below.

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