After almost three years of corona lockdown, China has reopened its borders. A month after the end of the rigorous zero-Covid policy, tens of thousands of Hong Kongers were the first to travel across the border crossings to the People's Republic. However, due to the massive corona wave in China and concerns about new virus variants, the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin is currently advising against “unnecessary trips” to the country.
The number of infections in China is at its highest level since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020: "The Chinese health system is overburdened, and adequate care in medical emergencies is also affected," says the foreign office's travel and safety instructions. According to the Robert Koch Institute, China (with the exception of Hong Kong) will be considered a “virus variant area in which a worrying virus variant threatens to appear” according to the new entry regulation.
From then on, the planned obligation to test will also apply: travelers from China will have to present at least one negative rapid antigen test that is no more than 48 hours old before boarding their flight to Germany. This should be controlled by the airlines. In addition, travelers should be able to be randomly tested after landing at the request of the authorities. Like other countries, Germany also wants to examine the waste water from aircraft from China for possible new corona virus variants.
2.5 million new infections per day
Most recently, many visitors from China were noticed as infected when they arrived in other countries. London-based data processor Airfinity estimates that 2.5 million people are currently getting infected every day in the world's most populous country, while 16,600 die. In mid-January, the number of new infections every day could rise to 3.7 million. According to these estimates, there have already been 209,000 deaths. According to the projections, the number of corona deaths could increase to 1.7 million by the end of April.
A new prevention plan in China is increasingly relying on self-protection and vaccinations when dealing with Corona. More than 500 hospitals in China are said to be monitoring the development of the infection situation and using samples to monitor the emergence of new virus variants. Selected municipalities should also analyze wastewater.
Most entry restrictions and, above all, the compulsory quarantine on arrival, which lasted one week, will no longer apply with effect from Sunday. At times, arrivals were even strictly isolated in a hotel room for up to three weeks. The current opening should nevertheless take place in an "orderly manner" - this means that the number of entries and exits or the issuing of visas will initially be limited.
For residents of the Chinese special administrative region, a quota of 50,000 entries per day applies for the time being, for which visitors must register in advance. Demand is high: 410,000 Hong Kongers have already registered, the South China Morning Post reported. In the opposite direction, a limited number of 6,600 travelers from China crossed the border into Hong Kong on Sunday. Travelers must show negative PCR tests from the last 48 hours.
Normalization of travel is still ongoing
The opening follows China's abrupt shift in policy in early December from the strict zero-tolerance target it has been pursuing since 2020 to full easing. The turnaround was justified with the easier course of the disease. But lockdowns, mass tests and forced quarantine were no longer able to contain the virus. The second largest economy also suffered increasingly from the measures. The following wave of infections caught hospitals completely unprepared. Vaccination had also not been sufficiently promoted.
After the end of the entry restrictions, it will probably be months before travel returns to normal. The number of flights from China abroad is currently only around ten percent of the volume before the pandemic. The tickets are expensive. Tourists also have to wait in line: China's authorities want to issue or extend passports again, but primarily only for business and study trips. Conversely, China's embassies want to issue more visas again - here, too, business, work or study visits and family visits have priority. A negative PCR test must also be presented before entering China.
Travelers must also note that further waves of infections are expected in China around the Chinese New Year celebrations on January 22. Hundreds of millions of people traditionally travel to their home villages and visit relatives for the most important Chinese family festival. During the 40-day travel period starting this weekend, travel volume is estimated to reach around 70 percent compared to pre-pandemic levels.
Experts fear that the virus will be carried from the metropolises that are now affected to the - even less prepared - inland provinces and rural areas. A particularly large number of old people live in rural areas, and in China they are often not adequately protected by vaccinations for fear of side effects. In addition, medical care is inadequate in many places.