In China, Protesting Travelers Avoid Last Days of Quarantine

SINGAPORE—Some groups of Chinese travelers have staged spot protests against being sent into still-mandatory quarantine—and they have won.

China has announced an end to quarantine on arrival, but not until Jan. 8. At the Nanjing airport, about 100 travelers argued with health workers and police that it made no sense to follow a rule that was about to disappear. 

The group refused to board the bus that would have taken them to a hotel for five days of enforced isolation. After a back and forth during which some participants repeatedly chanted “no quarantine,” the authorities relented and let the travelers go home directly, said 21-year-old student Jessica Li, who flew into Nanjing from Seoul on Sunday evening. 

“We dissented peacefully,” Ms. Li said. “The health workers were only half-heartedly trying to get us on the bus.”

As China reopens after nearly three years of isolation, the U.S. and several other countries will require travelers to show a negative Covid test. WSJ explains why some pandemic restrictions are back and what they mean for people traveling to and from China. Photo: Nicola Marfisi/Avalon via ZUMA Press

A similar incident three hours later in the same city, this time involving passengers on a flight from Tokyo, ended with the travelers being allowed to go home after signing a pledge that they would be responsible for all risks associated with bypassing hotel quarantine, said 28-year-old Akira Wang, a marketing professional. 

“It doesn’t make sense. We’re all negative. So many in China are currently positive. Why waste time?” Mr. Wang said. 

The National Health Commission declined to comment. The Civil Aviation Administration of China couldn’t be reached. The information office of the State Council, China’s cabinet, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.  

The demonstrations were a small echo of the waves of anger and protests that helped prompt the government to abruptly abandon some of the world’s toughest Covid restrictions in early December. 

China’s zero-tolerance approach to Covid-19 left the country largely closed off to the outside world for nearly three years. The isolation deepened this year as Omicron outbreaks across the country led to long and harsh lockdowns that slowed the economy and fueled public frustration. 

Chinese health authorities’ announcement Dec. 26 that they would lift Covid-19 quarantine requirements on international arrivals—even as infections spread rapidly through the country—was another major step in opening back up. 

The change means people arriving starting Jan. 8 will no longer need to undergo multiple days of enforced isolation, the National Health Commission said. They will only need to show a negative Covid-19 test within 48 hours before departing to be allowed into the country. 

Travelers now arriving in China are entering a country in the throes of a massive infection wave whose real size and extent is unknown. China’s central health authority stopped publishing daily Covid-19 data Dec. 25 after drawing criticism for underreporting the surge in infections.

Inbound travelers waited for hours to board buses to leave for quarantine hotels and facilities from Guangzhou Baiyun Airport in southern China’s Guangdong province Christmas Day.


Emily Wang Fujiyama/Associated Press

China’s people are scrambling to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances, with the country’s healthcare system swamped by an influx of patients, especially the elderly, and pharmacies across the country reporting shortages of fever medication like paracetamol.

China said Friday it has approved


& Co. and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics LP’s Covid pill molnupiravir for emergency use, according to a statement posted on the website of China’s National Medical Products Administration. China approved a rival oral treatment,

Pfizer Inc.’s

Paxlovid, for emergency use in February. 

Officials in Beijing have denied there has been a shortage of drugs or medical equipment and have brushed aside offers of help from the U.S. to supply vaccines and other medical goods.

Ms. Li, who spent the past six months studying in South Korea, said her fellow passengers organized themselves in a chat group on


China’s do-everything app, before taking off and agreed to band together to head off a stay in quarantine.  

They had been heartened into taking action after hearing of a successful protest in Nanjing the previous day, she said. The resulting standoff lasted about an hour. 

Mr. Wang and his fellow travelers weren’t initially as successful—authorities forced them to board the quarantine bus at the airport. But when they arrived at the designated hotel, the passengers refused to enter. After a 90-minute debate, the staff backed down and allowed the group to go home once they had signed the agreement to accept all responsibility for skipping quarantine. 

“All of us and all of them know that this no longer makes sense,” Mr. Wang said.  

He said he had generally supported China’s strict Covid controls but thought after the month-long lockdown this spring in Shanghai, where he lives, that it had to end eventually. 

“It cannot be done again,” he said. “We cannot endure it again.” 

As China relaxes pandemic restrictions and reopens to foreign travelers, clinics and hospital hallways overflow with patients amid a wave of infections that is testing the healthcare system, following the abrupt removal of the so-called zero-Covid strategy. Photo: Noel Celis/AFP/Getty Images

Write to Sha Hua at and Rachel Liang at

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