Are we returning to the world of travel restrictions?

China Abandoned Its Zero COVID-19 Policy - Shutterstock

China Abandoned Its Zero COVID-19 Policy – Shutterstock

There is some irony in the fact that the long-awaited reopening of the world’s most notorious Covid-precautious country has sparked a global panic towards the reintroduction of travel restrictions.

The era of pre-flight testing and vaccine certification seemed to be firmly in sight in the rearview mirror, but China’s reaction to the abandonment of its zero-COVID-19 policy – and the subsequent spike in infections – means the road back to normal is looking a bit more dangerous.

Many countries – including the UK – now require travelers from China to provide proof of a negative test if they wish to visit. Other nations ask the same not only of Chinese newcomers, but also of those from neighboring countries. Morocco has completely banned flights from China, and Thailand has taken perhaps the most drastic step of all, reintroducing regulations requiring proof of Covid vaccination from all travelers entering the country.

Should we be concerned about this new travel destination? Continuing the automotive metaphor, do we turn in front of an oncoming vehicle, or do we stand in front of an ordinary hole in the road?

Paul Charles, CEO of consulting firm The PC Agency, believes it’s the latter. He said: “I’m sure we’re not going back to tighter travel restrictions. There is no longer an appetite among governments to step back and lock down the population. I’m not even sure that citizens would follow such rules. We may find lighter measures like these from time to time, but it’s not something we’ll see on a much larger scale.

“Asia as a whole needs more time to recover from the pandemic and borders are opening more slowly. However, the demand for travel in 2023 is such that these often growing economies will rebound faster than expected. I still believe that 2023 will be a breakthrough year for travel around the world.”

Julie Lo Bue-Said, CEO of Advantage Travel Partnership, added: “The introduction of testing for Chinese visitors suggests that the lessons of the pandemic have simply not been learned – enforcing these types of barriers has no impact on the spread of infection. However, they are of concern to anyone planning to travel, and we must hope that this will remain a temporary hiatus and that governments will start to be guided by science, not politics, in making these decisions.”

Below are some of the major countries that have tightened their travel laws. The list is not exhaustive.

United Kingdom – tests for arrivals from China

If you are coming to the UK from China and are 12 or older, you must return a negative Covid-19 test result no later than two days before travel and present it on board the aircraft.

“From January 8, some passengers will also be invited to a voluntary on-arrival test to monitor potential new variants,” the Foreign Office (FCDO) website explains. “This applies to passengers aged 18 or over who are traveling from mainland China and only arriving at Heathrow Airport.”

USA – tests for arrivals from China

Effective January 5, air passengers two years and older traveling to the United States from China, Hong Kong or Macau, and those traveling from Seoul, Toronto and Vancouver who have been to China, Hong Kong or Macau in the last 10 days must test negative a Covid-19 test taken no earlier than two days before departure. More details are available on the CDC website.

It should also be noted that the United States is one of the few countries that still requires proof of vaccination for all arrivals as a condition of entry.

Canada – tests for newcomers from China

As with the United States, travelers entering Canada from mainland China, Hong Kong or Macau aged two years and older will need to provide proof of a recent negative PCR or rapid antigen test.

France – tests for newcomers from China

European countries, including France, have also reintroduced restrictions. All passengers arriving from China on a direct or connecting flight must present a negative antigen or PCR test result within the last 48 hours. Wearing a mask is now also mandatory on flights from China.

Spain – tests and proof of vaccination for arrivals from China

On January 3, Spain reintroduced mandatory vaccinations and tests for all passengers arriving from China. The FCDO website adds: “Travellers from China will also be required to undergo a visual and temperature check upon arrival and may be subject to a diagnostic test for active infection at the point of entry. Children under the age of 12 are exempt from this requirement, as are passengers who travel at the airport for 24 hours or less.

More information can be found on the website of the Spanish Ministry of Health. These requirements do not apply to those traveling to Spain from Hong Kong.

Germany – testing arrivals from China

Germany has also joined a growing list of countries imposing mandatory testing on arrivals from China.

The German government’s website also states that “people in the People’s Republic of China still need a valid reason to enter Germany (due to reciprocity).”

Italy – tests for newcomers from China

Italy reintroduced mandatory COVID-19 testing for passengers arriving from China on December 28, including transit passengers via Italy. Children aged five and under are exempt provided they do not show Covid symptoms.

More information can be found on the website of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Morocco – no arrivals from China

Taking it a step further, the Moroccan government has completely banned arrivals from China. The FCDO website says: “Effective January 3, Morocco has imposed a ban on all travelers from China, regardless of nationality, until further notice. This prohibition does not apply to persons who left China seven days before arriving in Morocco.

India – tests for newcomers from several Asian countries

The tests have returned to India for people coming from China (including Hong Kong) and four more countries: Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and Japan. Travelers from these countries are also required to submit a self-declaration and submit a negative PCR report (72 hours before departure) on the Air Suvidha portal.

Thailand – tests for all arrivals

The harshest response to China’s reopening came from Thailand, which confirmed plans to require all international arrivals to provide proof of vaccination.

As reported by the Bangkok Post, Public Health Minister Anutin Charnviraku said: “New measures are needed as Thailand is a top destination for travelers from many countries, including China, but the measures must be non-discriminatory.”

“The principle is that there will be no discrimination against a specific country because Covid-19 is spreading in all countries and the burdens are similar,” he added.

It is not known when the change will come into effect or how long it will remain in effect. The FCDO has not yet updated its website with any further information.

Australia – tests for newcomers from China

Arrivals from China, Hong Kong and Macau must now provide proof of a negative test result taken within 48 hours of scheduled departure. Children under 12 are exempt.

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