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Asia Minute: When will the Chinese return to international travel?

Virus Outbreak China 122522
Emily Wang Fujiyama/AP
A worker in protective gear points out a QR code to scan to make health declarations for inbound travelers arriving at Guangzhou Baiyun Airport in southern China's Guangdong province on Dec. 25 2022. China will drop a COVID-19 quarantine requirement for passengers arriving from abroad starting Jan. 8, the National Health Commission announced Monday, Dec, 26, 2022 in the latest easing of the country's once-strict virus-control measures. (AP Photo/Emily Wang Fujiyama)

China announced it will soon be dropping COVID quarantine requirements for visitors. While that's a big change for China's government, the move is drawing attention from neighboring countries for another reason.

Back in pre-COVID days, no one traveled in the Asia-Pacific like the Chinese: the leading category of tourists for nearly every major regional economy.

Reuters reports that in 2019 alone, Chinese travelers around the world spent the equivalent of more than $127 billion.

China's imminent dropping of quarantine for travelers has sparked regional attention — because that means traveling Chinese returning home would also not be subject to quarantine.

The Chinese government has not yet been specific about easing restrictions on outbound travel.

The country’s National Health Commission only said that will return “in an orderly manner.”

But other countries are making plans now.

Korean Air is increasing its flights between China and South Korea from nine a week to 15 a week next month.

The Bangkok Post reports the Association of Thai Travel Agents is already projecting that Chinese visitors could reach 3 to 5 million by next year.

The return to international travel is expected to be gradual — in part because many workers in China left the travel industry during the pandemic.

And there is some caution.

Starting on Friday, all Chinese visitors to Japan will need to test negative for COVID before they enter the country.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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