Amidst a growing surge of COVID-19 cases, China is preparing to reopen its ports of entry to foreign travelers – including seafarers – without any quarantine period or testing on arrival. The new policy will take effect on January 8.
“China will adjust the cargo-only policy at ports of entry and gradually resume entry and exit of passengers by land and water and provide greater convenience for Chinese and foreign crew change in China,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying on Tuesday. “Those with no issues to report in their health declaration who have been given regular customs inspection and quarantine clearance can enter China without being subject to quarantine.”
For more than a year, China’s ports have operated on a “closed-loop” model, walled off from the rest of the country by COVID-19 restrictions. That is quickly changing, along with the rest of the nation’s approach. After a wave of public protests in November, Beijing quietly loosened its strict quarantine and public health policies, and all indications suggest that the disease is now rapidly sweeping the country.
The government officially maintains that the case rate is low, and its published COVID fatality rate is in the single digits per day for a nation of 1.4 billion; however, social media and independent reporting suggest that hospitals and morgues are having difficulty keeping up with the pace.
The impact on seaports remains to be seen, but early indications suggest that infection rates are having an effect on all stages of the supply chain. Some manufacturers are slowing production or returning to the use of closed-loop, quarantined staffing policies. Top car manufacturer BYD has had to cut production by a third, and vice president Lian Yubo told CNN that “20% to 30% of our employees are sick at home.” As an indication of the difficulties on the ground, a recent CNBC poll of 340 leading American importers found that about 60 percent are having challenges getting their orders filled and delivered – despite the fact that the congestion that plagued ocean freight this year has effectively ended.