China is indeed turning the page on “zero Covid”. After being hermetically closed for three years to try to contain the epidemic, it reopens its doors to travellers. Starting tomorrow Wednesday, the country will again allow the issuance of all types of visas, including tourist visas, said a notice issued by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday.
Visas issued before the borders closed on March 28, 2020 and which have not yet expired will regain their validity to travel to China, the authorities specify. Beijing will also restore the possibilities of certain visa-free entries, including those to the tourist island of Hainan (in the south) or those allowed to cruise passengers calling at Shanghai.
Almost total closure
At the start of the pandemic, travel to China was complicated or even impossible due to the very strict health restrictions imposed under the “zero Covid” policy. The first country affected by the epidemic, China had brutally closed its borders, in March 2020, to all visa holders, including holders of residence permits, for fear of a new wave of contamination from abroad. Many expatriates found themselves unable to return home after leaving China.
Relaxations had been granted with the gradual resumption of business visas or for family reunion. But exchanges between China and abroad have long remained severely limited by the reduction in the number of international flights and the obligation of quarantine upon arrival on Chinese territory for all travelers.
After unprecedented demonstrations of anger across the country, these emblematic “zero Covid” measures were removed last January, thanks to a gradual return to normal life in China. The suspension of tourist visas, which will be lifted on Wednesday, remained the last vestige of this health policy.
The announcement made on Tuesday comes the day after the end of an important annual session of the Chinese Parliament, which reappointed President Xi Jinping for an unprecedented third five-year term as head of the country and appointed a new Prime Minister, Li Qiang.
The country is facing an economic crisis which, by Li Qiang’s own admission, will make it difficult to achieve the growth target set at around 5%, already one of the lowest in decades. Reopening the borders is one of the solutions to restart the machine. In 2019, before closing to the rest of the world, China welcomed some 65.7 million international visitors, according to data from the United Nations World Tourism Organization.