As Beijing contends with a COVID outbreak in Guangdong that has spread to an important manufacturing hub while exacerbating issues at a port in Shenzen, WSJ reports that Chinese officials are preparing to keep their pandemic border restrictions in place for at least another year as officials scramble to suppress mutant strains like the "Delta" variant.
A provisional timeline that would see restrictions lifted during the second half of next year was reportedly set during a mid-May meeting of the State Council, Beijing's equivalent of the president's cabinet. The meeting was also attended by officials from the Foreign Ministry as well as China's National Health Commission, among other departments.
As WSJ explains, the new cautious attitude is being drive by a pair of extremely sensitive upcoming events: China will host the winter Olympics in February. Later, a once-in-a-decade transition of power within the CCP is set for November. The Party Congress is expected to culminate with President Xi Jinping securing a third term in office as he prepares to extend his rule over the world's largest country beyond the customary two terms.
Since the COVID-19 outbreak first erupted in Wuhan in late 2019, China has taken heavy handed measures to stamp out the virus that are still on display today in the areas where COVID lockdowns are in effect. By restricting visas to those who have already been vaccinated and maintaining quarantine requirements of 14 days for all visitors upon arrival, China's health officials have successfully combated imported cases.
As the pandemic worsened, Beijing - which once criticized President Trump's travel restrictions - became one of the most fastidious countries pertaining to its border controls. Beijing has been accelerating its vaccine rollout, and economists at Goldman Sachs expect 80% of Chinese adults to be fully vaccinated by the fall.
At this point, Beijing would likely relax travel restrictions for countries with high vaccination rates, with countries that recognize Chinese vaccines likely seeing first priority.
It's expected that once China does ease restrictions, travel between the mainland, Hong Kong and Macau would be the first to see restrictions lifted. Both Hong Kong and Macau haven't reported any new infections in weeks. China's biggest flareup is currently centered in the southern province of Guangdong, which isn't far from the two special administrative regions.