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The backstory: China has had pandemic border restrictions in place for over three years. In 2022, China registered 115 million cross-border trips, but the 2019 pre-pandemic level was 670 million. COVID restrictions also kept almost everyone out of the country except for residents. But, over the past couple of months, there's been an improvement in COVID conditions in the country, with the national outbreak winding down significantly.
More recently: Last month, China declared victory over the virus after an outbreak following the end of the country's zero-COVID stance. Different major events hosted by China have also been set to resume, like the China Development Forum in Beijing, the Asian Games and the Shanghai Autoshow. In January, China started a soft border reopening, scrapping mandatory quarantine for international arrivals. Recently, China also approved outbound group tours for citizens, which has had positive results.
The development: Now, China is ready to reopen its borders completely. From Wednesday, all categories of visas can be issued again. Places that didn't require visas before the pandemic, like Hainan, will also resume visa-free entry. People with multi-year visas issued before the pandemic can use them if they haven't expired. But travelers do have to take a COVID test within 48 hours of departing for the country.
"China will continue to make better arrangements for the safe, healthy and orderly movement of Chinese and foreign personnel on the basis of scientific assessments and in light of the situation," said Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin on Tuesday. "We also hope that all parties will join China in creating favorable conditions for cross-border exchanges."
"In terms of tourism, China is no longer a hotspot destination," said an anonymous executive at China International Travel Services in Beijing. "Commercially, the wish of foreigners to run events in China also decreased after COVID, because too many things here are impacted by politics which has scared them off."
"The announcement that China will resume issuing nearly all type of visas for foreigners from tomorrow is positive for Australian businesses whose executives would like to travel to here to visit their China-based teams, customers and suppliers and to explore new business opportunities in the mainland market," said Vaughn Barber, chairman of the Australian Chamber of Commerce in China.