Quarantine requirements are set to be lifted for inbound travelers to China. According to press reports, starting on January 8, there will be no quarantine requirements for those arriving in the country, with the only requirement being a negative COVID test result issued within the preceding 48 hours. This is a critical development for all those doing business in or with China.
In addition to the elimination of quarantine requirements, Chinese citizens will once again be able to apply for passports. The issuance of travel documents for non-essential travel had been suspended during the pandemic.
As we have discussed, COVID travel restrictions have imposed great hardship on both Chinese companies and international ones doing business in or with the country. On the one hand, restrictions have complicated efforts by Chinese businesses to maintain client relationships, as we have seen first hand. At the same time, the difficulty (if not the impossibility) of traveling to China has disrupted the activities of international companies in myriad ways.
An elimination of quarantine requirements and more open borders will mean a world of difference for businesses, both Chinese and foreign. However, as we enter this new phase, companies should be mindful of potential hitches.
First, businesses should not lose sight of the fact that COVID policies could change again in the future, possibly in a restrictive direction. This risk would be particularly acute if the nature of the COVID threat evolves due, for example, to the emergence of new variants. Companies looking to redeploy staff to China should proceed with caution. For the time being, regular travel might be a more prudent alternative than relocation. In any case, foreign travelers should be ready for the possibility of quarantine requirements and other travel restrictions being imposed on short notice.
Second, as has been the case throughout the pandemic, responses may vary greatly according depending on the locality. The possibility of very strict restrictions in particular cities or provinces cannot be dismissed. Quarantines may not be required nationally, but they may be required in specific places. Businesses should check on specific conditions in the places they plan to visit.
Third, the true extent of pandemic-related problems may only become apparent for some companies as China reopens and they are able to take stock of conditions on the ground, which they may not have assessed properly since the start of the pandemic. For instance, brands’ efforts to keep tabs on counterfeiting and unauthorized product overruns require access to markets and supplier factories, as well as favorable conditions for covert investigations. Quarantines and other restrictions made oversight by staff and third parties based outside China difficult, if not impossible, but they also took place in the domestic context. As things get back to a sort of normal, some companies may find some unpleasant things happened while they were gone.
Finally, regardless of what happens at the policy level, the fact remains that China is still dealing with critical public health situation. This has numerous implications for business travelers. For example, a high level of infections at the factory you work with might mean that you cannot visit as planned – not to mention the risk of infection you face. Shops, restaurants, and even hotels could be similarly impacted.
On a related note, staff based elsewhere might not be that keen on traveling to China. Meanwhile, the United States and some other countries are now requiring COVID tests for passengers coming from China. Depending on how the situation develops, the possibility of quarantine requirements cannot be ruled out.
All in all, the lifting of quarantine requirements and the overall easing of COVID-related controls should be welcome news for businesses for when COVID in China is under control again. This said, companies should proceed with the caution and be ready to deal with policy changes on short notice. And make sure you bring the right chargers and masks from home, lest going shopping is not an option upon arrival!