News this week that China is easing visa restrictions for people who have had a China-produced vaccine prompted the usual storm of questions on WeChat.
"Does that mean I can get the vaccine now? Is travel going back to normal? Can my parents come to visit me? Can I skip the 14 days quarantine? Can I stop wearing my mask?????"
The short answer to all of these questions (plus many others) is: no.
While this is absolutely a step in the right direction for getting back to normal in terms of both business and leisure travel (or "resuming people-to-people exchanges between China and other countries in an orderly manner" as most Chinese embassies put it), don't jump on Trip.com and start booking flights yet. This new policy is literally days old and there are still a number of things that remain unclear. Here's what we do know.
On Monday, Mar 15, foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said that "With a view to resuming international travel in an orderly fashion, starting from today... China provides visa facilitation to incoming foreigners who have received Chinese vaccines and hold a vaccination certificate." Following that, Chinese embassies in a number of countries, including the US, the UK, India, Pakistan, Croatia, Australia, the Philippines, Israel, and the Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China in Hong Kong SAR, updated their websites with new information about "visa facilitation" for vaccinated applicants.
Who can apply for visas now and what is the application process?
The new rules apply only to those who have "either received two doses of Chinese-made vaccines with the stipulated gap in between or received a single-dose Chinese-made vaccine at least 14 days prior to the application."
Application rules/procedures vary slightly by country, but the general gist is that those vaccinated need only provide the same documents they would have provided prior to the pandemic, i.e., you no longer need a PU or TE invitation letter or other special proof of invitation. The notice on the UK embassy website (but not others) also states that "Non-Chinese nationals in the UK holding valid Chinese residence permits for work, personal matters and reunion will no longer be affected for entry into China," which we interpret to mean that you won't need to reapply for a new visa (although don't quote us on that...).
Close family members of Chinese citizens or permanent residents may also apply for visas for the purposes of reuniting with family, taking care of the elderly, visiting relatives, attending funerals, or visiting critically ill relatives.
What China-produced vaccines are currently available?
China has dozens of vaccines in development, of which five have currently been approved for emergency or general use. Of these, the two you've probably heard of are Sinovac (also known as CoronaVac) and Sinopharm. Both the Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines use an inactive or "dead" virus that provokes the immune system to produce antibodies.
Can I get one?
That really depends on where you are in the world. Only around 20 countries, including Turkey, Brazil, the UAE, the Philippines, and Thailand, have approved the use of China-produced vaccines. So far, it is unclear how people in other countries such as the UK or the US would get a Chinese-produced vaccine, although perhaps the fact that this policy is now in place is a suggestion that agreements might be reached sooner rather than later.
In China, most foreigners are still not eligible to receive the vaccine, although we hear stories trickling in of foreigners in key industries such as education getting vaccinated, and many have been able to register with their place of work or residence for inoculation at some point in the future.
What about quarantine?
To date, China has not issued any information about reducing or removing quarantine requirements (currently a minimum of 14-21 days, plus potential extra time undergoing health monitoring either in a hotel or at home depending on your final destination in China). The requirement to provide negative nucleic acid tests and antibody (IgM) tests before boarding a flight to China also remains unchanged.
READ: What is a vaccine passport and can I have one? (Hint: no)
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