People walk past red lanterns at a rooftop cafe near the Drum Tower in Beijing on January 6, 2023. Image Credit: AFP

SHANGHAI/BEIJING: More countries around the world are demanding that visitors from China take COVID tests, days before it drops border controls and ushers in an eagerly awaited return to travel for a population that has been largely stuck at home for three years.

From Sunday, China will end the requirement for inbound travellers to quarantine.

Greece, Germany and Sweden on Thursday joined more than a dozen countries to demand COVID tests from Chinese travellers.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning warned on Friday of possible reciprocal measures after the European Union recommended pre-departure testing for Chinese passengers.

“The EU should listen more to ... rational voices and treat China’s epidemic prevention and control objectively and fairly,” Mao told a regular media briefing in Beijing.

The Global Times, a nationalistic tabloid published by the official People’s Daily, said in an editorial that some Western media and politicians “would never be satisfied” no matter what steps China takes.

China reported five new COVID deaths in the mainland for Thursday, bringing its official virus death toll to 5,264, one of the lowest in the world.

Investors are optimistic that China’s reopening can eventually reinvigorate a $17-trillion economy suffering its lowest growth in nearly half a century.

Those hopes, alongside policy measures to help revive its troubled property sector, lifted China’s yuan on Friday.


With the big Lunar New Year holidays late this month, the mainland is also set to open the border with its special administrative region of Hong Kong on Sunday, for the first time in three years.

Ferry services between the city and the gambling hub of Macau will resume on the same day.

Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways said on Thursday it would more than double flights to mainland China.

Flights to and from China remain at a tiny fraction of pre-COVID levels.

The WHO has warned that the holiday, which starts on Jan. 21 and usually brings the biggest human migration on the planet as people head home from cities to visit families in small towns and villages, could spark another infection wave in the absence of higher vaccination rates and other precautions.

Authorities expect 2.1 billion passenger trips, by road, rail, water and air, over the holiday, double last year’s 1.05 billion journeys during the same period.

The transport ministry has urged people to be cautious to minimise the risk of infection for elderly relatives, pregnant women and infants.

One region poised to be a major beneficiary of China’s opening is Southeast Asia, where countries have not demanded that Chinese visitors take COVID tests.

Except for airline wastewater testing by Malaysia and Thailand for the virus, the region’s 11 nations will treat Chinese travellers like any others.

As many as 76 per cent of Chinese travel agencies ranked Southeast Asia as the top destination when outbound travel resumed, according to a recent survey by trade show ITB China.

Many people in China have taken to social media to announce their travel plans but some remain wary.