Authorities in mainland China are tightening restrictions on entry from multiple countries while maintaining domestic controls amid ongoing efforts to limit the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Officials have announced policies requiring all authorized inbound passengers, including Chinese nationals, arriving from designated countries to provide evidence of both nucleic acid COVID-19 tests and IgM antibody tests taken at designated facilities in the country of origin within 48 hours prior to boarding flights. Authorities are also requiring travelers departing from the designated countries to undergo additional COVID-19 tests in each country through which they transit. These measures have been announced for numerous countries, implying that the policy is likely to be expanded in the coming days and weeks. As of early Oct. 31, officials have announced the tighter testing restrictions on all passengers departing the following countries beginning on the dates indicated:
- Oct. 31: Iran
- Nov. 1: Kazakhstan
- Nov. 4: Italy
- Nov 6: The US, Thailand, France, Spain, and Poland
- Nov. 7: The UK, Iraq, Finland, and Bulgaria
- Nov. 8: Switzerland
Authorities previously required passengers arriving from abroad to take a nucleic acid COVID-19 test at designated facilities in the country of origin within three days of departure for China; this requirement is likely to continue in most countries, though 48-hour testing requirements may be imposed at short notice. All authorized passengers must apply for a health certificate via the local Chinese diplomatic mission before travel. Chinese citizens must update their information through WeChat to obtain a health code before boarding flights.
Within mainland China, officials continue to designate four towns in Shufu County, located in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region's Kashgar Prefecture, as high-risk areas; the affected towns are Zhanmin, Tuokezhake, Wukusake, and Sayibag. Every other location in Kashgar Prefecture has been designated as medium risk. All areas within mainland China outside of Kashgar Prefecture are low risk.
The government is continuing the following system to assign risk levels for areas throughout the country based on COVID-19 activity:
- Low risk: Locations with no new confirmed COVID-19 cases and no confirmed cases within 14 consecutive days.
- Medium risk: Areas where COVID-19 activity does not exceed 50 cases within 14 days, or more than 50 cases have occurred but have not emerged within 14 days. No clusters reported within two weeks.
- High risk: Places where new confirmed COVID-19 cases surpass 50, and a cluster has been reported within 14 days.
Areas could see their risk rating increase at short notice if new outbreaks are discovered. Individuals with recent travel history in high- and medium-risk locations will face travel, movement, and gathering restrictions. Most provincial and municipal governments require passengers from medium-risk zones to undergo quarantine and testing. Local governments are highly likely to tighten movement and business restrictions in medium- and high-risk areas; those exiting such areas generally must have negative COVID-19 test results before traveling.
Health checks are ongoing at airports, train stations, and subway stations, increasing travel times. Operators in some major cities require health codes to use public transport. Officials are likely to erect roadblocks and checkpoints on routes into any high- and medium-risk areas of cities and counties following outbreaks.
The government is maintaining an entry ban for most foreign nationals. Foreign nationals who have currently valid Chinese residence permits for the purposes of working, visiting family, and personal matters can reenter the country. Specially designated foreign workers with invitation letters issued by provincial or municipal government officials can also enter the country. Some immediate family members of foreign employees may obtain visas to enter the country for emergency humanitarian purposes. Diplomatic personnel and C visa holders - generally flight and shipping crew members - are exempt from entry bans. Foreign nationals with valid residence permits must undergo COVID-19 tests prior to travel and undergo quarantine periods of at least 14 days upon arrival. Foreign nationals with residence permits that expired after March 28 are authorized to reapply for entry visas at Chinese diplomatic facilities.
Additionally, officials are permitting essential business travel from Singapore and South Korea under fast-track arrangements. Travel is possible between Singapore and Guangdong, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang provinces, as well as Chongqing, Shanghai, and Tianjin municipalities. A fast-track arrangement for business travelers from South Korea to 10 Chinese locations, including Shanghai, as well as Liaoning, Shandong, Jiangsu, and Anhui provinces, is also in place. Companies or government agencies can apply for special passes for inbound visitors, who must test negative for COVID-19 within 48 hours of their departure from Singapore, or within 72 hours of their departure from South Korea, and must obtain a visa. Passengers will undergo COVID-19 testing again upon arrival in China and isolate at designated facilities (usually hotels) until their results are available. Singapore travelers must also adhere to a preplanned itinerary; refrain from using public transport, except for private hire vehicles, for the first 14 days; and must download and use a health pass while in the country. Arriving passengers testing positive for COVID-19 will undergo treatment at their own expense.
Authorities in Yunnan, Guangxi, Inner Mongolia, and Heilongjiang are restricting movement through land borders. Most travelers, regardless of nationality or residency, are barred from entering or exiting border checkpoints. Exceptions are in place for cargo transport, though backlogs remain possible at border checkpoints.
The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) is maintaining controls on international commercial flights. The CAAC continues to manage international airline flight volume based on COVID-19 testing outcomes for passengers. If a foreign carrier achieves three weeks with no passengers testing positive, officials will permit one more flight on preexisting routes. If five passengers test positive for any airline, CAAC will suspend the carrier's operations for one week, and for four weeks if 10 of the airline's passengers test positive. China and US regulators continue to limit available flights from each other's countries to eight per week. Authorities continue to restrict Chinese airlines' international operations and limit capacity on aircraft. Some airlines continue to suspend services to and from mainland China due to significantly decreased demand.
CAAC allows passenger flights from Canada, Cambodia, Thailand, Pakistan, Greece, Denmark, Sweden, and Austria to land directly in Beijing. Officials continue to divert other international flights to nearby cities, where passengers receive health scans; symptomatic passengers receive treatment locally, while asymptomatic passengers can continue to Beijing.
The government continues to conduct health screenings, including body temperature scans and nucleic acid testing, at ports of entry nationwide. Most international travelers must quarantine for 14 days, and officials generally allow nonresident passengers to stay in government-designated hotels at their own cost. However, some governments in border areas require inbound travelers to self-quarantine and undergo medical observation for two additional weeks. The Beijing municipal government allows specific groups of travelers, including residents who live alone, travelers over 70 years old, pregnant women, and travelers with underlying conditions, to self-quarantine, with permission. The Shanghai government allows arriving residents to quarantine at a designated facility for seven days and self-quarantine for an additional seven days at home. All arrivals must receive a negative COVID-19 test result in quarantine before release from designated facilities.
Consider postponing nonessential travel to mainland China. Confirm all scheduled international flights. Follow all official instructions and closely monitor official announcements on any other precautionary restrictions. Confirm all travel and business reservations. Allow additional travel time due to screenings at airports, train stations, and other transport hubs. Make allowances for possible business disruptions.
Exercise basic health precautions, especially frequent handwashing with soap and water, or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are unavailable. Practice good coughing/sneezing etiquette (i.e., covering coughs and sneezes with a disposable tissue, maintaining distance from others, and washing hands). There is no evidence that the influenza vaccine, antibiotics, or antiviral medications will prevent this disease, highlighting the importance of diligent basic health precautions.