Countries Tighten Entry Restrictions in Response to China’s COVID Surge

Concerns over mutation, lack of transparency lead to stricter measures worldwide
By Jessica Mao
Jessica Mao
Jessica Mao
Jessica Mao is a writer for The Epoch Times with a focus on China-related topics. She began writing for the Chinese-language edition in 2009.
and Lynn Xu
Lynn Xu
Lynn Xu
Lynn Xu is an Epoch Times contributor focused on contemporary China issues.
January 26, 2023Updated: January 26, 2023

China opened its borders earlier this month, and as outbound travel resumes—despite a surge of COVID-19 infections—the move has triggered broad concerns. Many countries are tightening restrictions on entry for Chinese tourists to prevent them from bringing the virus into their lands.

A flare-up of infections and deaths hit China after the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) abandoned its dynamic zero-COVID policy on Dec. 7. The border officially re-opened on Jan. 8, allowing travel out of China after three years of lockdowns and personal restrictions.

Nonetheless, in the weeks prior to the official re-opening, concerns were already being raised as a flow of infected travelers left the country.

In late December, Italy became the first country to mandate COVID-19 testing for passengers arriving from China. The mandate came after tests on travelers arriving at Milan’s Malpensa airport from Beijing and Shanghai showed that nearly half of the passengers were infected.

‘Loci of Immune Escape’ Found in Italy

Before the pandemic, Dr. Yan Limeng was a postdoctoral researcher specializing in virology and immunology at the University of Hong Kong. She fled to the United States in April of 2020 after questioning the origins of the COVID-19 virus. In an exclusive Jan. 20 interview with The Epoch Times, Yan said researchers have found slight changes—immune escape loci—in Omicron subvariants carried by Chinese travelers to Italy.

“Once the virus escapes the immunity, it causes more damage to the human body,” she warned.

Given the seriousness of the outbreak, the rest of the world followed Italy’s lead, taking action to restrict visitors from China. Most countries cited concerns about a COVID-19 surge in China, the potential risk of mutated strains emerging after an outbreak, and the CCP’s reluctance to share virus data with other countries.

United States

Effective Jan. 5, 2023, the United States is requiring all airline passengers boarding flights for the United States from China, Hong Kong, or Macau to show proof of negative screening for COVID-19, done within 48 hours of departure. The measure applies to all passengers two years of age and older, regardless of nationality or vaccination status. In lieu of a negative test result, passengers who tested positive more than 10 days prior to flight departure may provide proof of recovery.


Canada has announced that effective Jan. 5, travelers two years of age and older arriving in Canada from China, Hong Kong, or Macau must provide proof of a negative test before departure. Testing must be conducted within two days of departure. The measures apply to passengers regardless of nationality or vaccination status.


As of Jan. 5, travelers from mainland China to the UK must show proof of a negative test within two days prior to departure. Passengers will not be allowed to board without evidence of a negative test result. In addition, on Jan. 8, the UK began random, voluntary virus testing for travelers arriving from China. The UK Health and Safety Executive launched the new testing system at Heathrow Airport to help identify COVID-19 variants.

Epoch Times Photo
Chinese travelers leave the arrival hall of Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino Airport near Rome after being tested for COVID-19 on Dec. 29, 2022. (Filippo Monteforte/AFP via Getty Images)


The EU struggled to come up with a unified approach for arrivals from China. However, member states agreed to recommend a number of measures for travelers to and from China, including mandatory testing.

Belgium, Germany, and Sweden are the latest EU members to impose entry restrictions on Chinese tourists, joining France, Italy, and Spain in requiring passengers to show proof of a negative virus test before taking off.

Starting on Jan. 9, Germany classified China as an “area of variants of concern in which a variant of particular concern threatens to emerge.” Visitors from China must present proof of antigen or PCR testing. Passengers will be randomly tested upon arrival. In addition, Germany will also test plane wastewater to detect new variants of the virus. The German government is discouraging travel to China unless necessary.

Belgium has announced that visitors from China will be required to have a negative COVID-19 test to enter the country. The requirement applies to all visitors aged 12 and older from China, and the test must be conducted within 48 hours of entry.  Like Germany, Belgium is testing plane wastewater to screen for virus variants. The new measures are in effect until Jan. 31, according to Belgian news agency Belga.

The Swedish government said on Jan. 5 that visitors from China will be required to show proof of a negative test for COVID before entering the country. The requirement is effective from Jan. 7 until Jan. 28. The requirement is applicable to all travelers, except diplomats, children under the age of 12, and citizens or permanent residents of Sweden or other EU/European economic area countries.

The French government announced that all persons over the age of 6 would be required to wear a mask on flights from China to French territory, starting Jan. 1. Starting Jan. 5, all passengers 11 years or older from China will be required to provide proof of negative nucleic acid or antigen testing within 48 hours prior to take-off. Arriving tourists will be tested as well, according to the website of France’s Ministry of the Interior. France is also advising its citizens to postpone non-essential travel to China.

Italy announced on Dec. 28 that it would require mandatory virus testing for all visitors from China. Italy was the first Western country to impose new entry requirements for Chinese tourists.

After initially saying it would not require negative tests, Spain backtracked and introduced temperature and visual checks on Dec. 31. On Jan. 2, the Spanish government announced it would require visitors from China to provide proof of a negative virus test or vaccination.


Australia announced that starting Jan. 5, travelers over the age of 12 arriving from China, Hong Kong, or Macau must provide evidence of a negative virus test taken within 48 hours of the scheduled departure date, or proof of recovery from COVID-19. The stipulation includes indirect flights via third countries.

The New Zealand government has stated that it will not impose any mandatory restrictions on Chinese visitors. New Zealand Health Minister Ayesha Verrall said in a statement on Jan. 4 that “there is minimal public health risk to New Zealand.” However, New Zealand will be asking a sampling of visitors to take voluntary tests and share information with the authorities.


After announcing on Jan. 7 that it would require proof of vaccination to enter the country, Thailand—a popular destination for Chinese tourists—quickly changed course and dropped the rule, according to a Reuters report. Thailand’s health minister cited global immunization rates and the inconvenience of checking for proof of vaccination as reasons for the reversal. Thailand still requires proof of health insurance for travelers going to countries that require a negative COVID-19 test for entry.

Japan tightened its border controls further on Jan. 12, requiring travelers from China or Macau to provide proof of a negative virus test taken within 72 hours of departure. In addition, all visitors from mainland China or Macau, as well as those who have visited China within seven days, are required to test upon arrival in Japan.

The Japanese government continues to limit direct flights from China, allowing them to land only at Narita, Haneda, Kansai, and Chubu airports.

According to information from South Korea’s Incheon Airport (pdf), the South Korean government requires passengers from China, Hong Kong, and Macau to present a negative PCR test taken within 48 hours or a not-at-home negative antigen test taken within 24 hours of entering Korea. Passengers must also input quarantine information in Korea’s Q-Code system before boarding. Passengers from mainland China must also undergo PCR testing upon arrival. From Jan. 2–31, Korea will restrict the number of short-term visas granted to visitors from China.

According to a Dec. 29 report from Voice of America, North Korea has banned the entry of Chinese citizens, enacting a 30-day quarantine and observation period for all recent arrivals from China, including North Korean citizens. It is unclear when this measure will be implemented and how long it will last.

Epoch Times Photo
People peruse international flight arrivals at Tokyo’s Haneda international airport on Dec. 28, 2022. (Philip Fong/AFP via Getty Images)

In an announcement (pdf) dated Dec. 29, Indian officials said that starting Jan. 1, travelers over 12 years of age from China, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Singapore, and Thailand would be required to show proof of a negative test for COVID-19, done within 72 hours before traveling to India. In addition, random testing is conducted upon arrival, regardless of the origin of travel.

Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control announced on Jan. 3 that from Jan. 6–31, passengers arriving directly from China or on flights transiting through Hong Kong or Macau must present a negative COVID-19 test taken within 48 hours of departure, or a rapid antigen test taken within 24 hours of departure.

Malaysia’s immigration department opened special screening lanes to monitor travelers from China, according to an article from Malaysian news The Star. After thermal scanning, individuals suspected of infection will be tested. Last month, the country’s health minister announced that travelers who had been in China within 14 days of their arrival in Malaysia or displayed COVID-19 symptoms would need to take a rapid antigen test. Malaysia is also testing wastewater on flights from China.

Outbound Travel Searches Soar

The volume of searches for outbound travel and airline tickets on Chinese travel platforms climbed dramatically after the Chinese regime announced it would re-open outbound travel, according to a report by Chinese state media.

Data from Qunar, a Chinese travel platform, showed that within 15 minutes of the announcement, the number of searches for international airline tickets had increased sevenfold, with Thailand, Japan, and Korea being the most popular destinations.

Searches for popular overseas destinations on the Chinese travel platform Ctrip jumped tenfold year-on-year, with searches for outbound air tickets and overseas hotels reaching a three-year peak. The top 10 destinations were Macau, Hong Kong, Japan, Thailand, Korea, the United States, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, and the United Kingdom. Overall, Ctrip searches for international air tickets jumped by 850 percent; while visa searches increased tenfold.

‘Extremely Irresponsible’: Virologist

Lin Xiaoxu, a former virologist at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, spoke with The Epoch Times Chinese language edition on Dec. 27.  Lin said that the international community has no way of knowing how many variants of the COVID-19 virus there are in China, due to China’s lack of transparency.

“Under such circumstances, it is extremely irresponsible and malicious for the Chinese [regime] to release people from infected areas [to other countries],” Lin said.

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