Traveling to China during Covid-19: What you need to know before you go

Editor’s Note — Coronavirus cases remain high across the globe. Health officials caution that travel increases your chances of getting and spreading the virus. Staying home is the best way to stem transmission. Below is information on what to know if you still plan to travel, last updated on January 6.

(CNN) — If you’re planning a trip to China, here’s what you’ll need to know and expect if you want to visit during the global coronavirus pandemic.

The basics

The Covid-19 pandemic started in China’s Hubei province, but early and strict lockdowns means the country has got it under control. However, most visitors are not yet allowed entry.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has announced that the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games would be open to domestic tourists, but not international ones. The IOC also stated that only fully vaccinated athletes will be able to skip the 21-day quarantine.

The Games kick off on February 4, and the Paralympics will end on March 13. These guidelines will apply for the entire period.

What’s on offer

This is of course one of the world’s greatest ancient civilizations. China brought us papermaking, printing, and, of course, tea. Its many dynasties have left their marks in world-famous heritage sites, such as the Great Wall, the Terracotta Warriors of Xi’an, and ancient towns such as Lijiang. But it’s also thoroughly modern, with mushrooming cities and skyscrapers pricking the clouds.

Who can go

China closed its borders to nearly all travelers in March 2020, when the pandemic started spreading throughout Europe.

On March 15, 2021, restrictions were eased for a select number of travelers from 23 countries. Those coming for work or for humanitarian reasons — such as reuniting with family — can apply for visas, as can holders of the APEC Business Travel Card. Residents may also return.

Despite rumors that the country would only grant travel visas to people who had gotten the China-created Sinovac vaccine, the Chinese embassy in the United States confirmed on April 20 that travelers with confirmed history of vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines would also be eligible.

The “Return2HK” program kicked off on September 15. Under this program, 2,000 eligible people from Macao and the Chinese mainland will be able to enter Hong Kong per day without quarantining.

Half will be permitted to enter via the Shenzhen Bay port and the other half via the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge Hong Kong Port. Proof of a negative Covid test will still be required.

The Hong Kong government has launched the Leave Home Safe app, which will be compatible with the mainland Chinese health tracking app. The synchronization of these apps will make it possible to partially reopen the border between Hong Kong and Guangdong Province sometime in 2022.

What are the restrictions?

All travelers must present two negative tests — PCR and antibody tests — taken within 48 hours of travel.

For the newly qualified entrants, entry depends on having received two doses of Covid-19 vaccines at least 14 days prior to entry. They must apply for a visa in advance, and show their proof of vaccination on arrival, as well as the negative tests.

Arrivals are screened once more at the airport. Those failing the checks will be sent to government facilities. You must then quarantine on arrival. Some regions demand 14 days; others, 21. This might take place at a government facility or at your home.

“China’s current rapid response and dynamic clearance strategy is capable of dealing with all types of new coronavirus variants,” Zhang Wenhong, an infectious disease expert who is one of China’s most prominent advisers on Covid strategy, wrote in a social media post on November 28.

What’s the Covid situation?

China has reported 115,701 cases and 4,849 deaths as of January 6, 2021. About 85% of the adult population is fully vaccinated.

Like many other countries around the world, China has taken strict measures against the Omicron variant.

The first two Omicron cases were reported in Tianjin and Guangzhou in December. Both cases were detected in people who had returned to China after traveling abroad.

On December 22, regional tourism within Yunnan Province, which borders Myanmar, Laos and Thailand, was suspended indefinitely.

The situation in Xi’an, Shaanxi province, has been extreme. Following a cluster of locally transmitted Omicron cases, the city was put under a level one lockdown at the end of December. The cluster of about 1,600 cases is the single largest number since March 2020.

From January 5, all international flights in and out of Xi’an airport are canceled indefinitely.

On January 6, Macao announced a two-week ban on any inbound passenger flights from outside of China. This was after three Omicron cases were detected in people who had been traveling overseas.

Manzhouli, the city in Inner Mongolia where the majority of Russia-China trade occurs, had a small Covid outbreak at the end of November. Some screening measures there have become stricter, with a few buildings being locked down for mass testing.

What can visitors expect?

Life is largely back to normal, but things can change fast in China — regional lockdowns have been imposed every time there are new outbreaks of the virus.

Case in point: following an outbreak of the Omicron variant in the city of Xi’an, best known for its UNESCO-listed terracotta warriors, in late December 2021, there were extreme measures taken by the regional government.

Some 13 million people are now confined to their homes.

This is the longest such lockdown since the initial one in Wuhan at the beginning of the pandemic, and there are reports of food shortages and lack of access to medical care for the people locked in their homes.

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CNN’s Julia Buckley and Lilit Marcus contributed to this report

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