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China Resumes Group Tours to US, UK, Japan

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Beijing on Thursday lifted a COVID-era ban on outbound group tours to dozens of countries including the United States and Japan, a move that could see crowds of Chinese tourists return to destinations around the world.

China cut itself off from the world in 2020 as part of a strict zero-COVID strategy, using visa suspensions and lengthy quarantines to curb the import of virus cases into the country.

Thursday’s announcement is the latest move towards reopening, after the Chinese government dropped its containment measures abruptly in December.

“From now on, travel agencies across the country and online travel companies will resume operating outbound group tours” to more than 70 countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, Japan and South Korea, the Chinese Ministry of Culture and Tourism said in a statement.

Chinese tour groups had already received permission to visit a small number of countries earlier this year under a trial program, including tourist magnets Thailand, Italy and France.

The tourism ministry on Thursday said outbound tourism had been developing in a stable manner since the start of the trial period, “playing a positive role in promoting tourism exchanges and cooperation.”

China had the largest outbound tourism market in the world in 2019, with mainland Chinese residents taking 155 million trips abroad that year, according to consulting firm McKinsey.

That outflow narrowed to a trickle in the past three years as Chinese authorities restricted passport renewals and cut international flights in a bid to deter travel.

In early December, Chinese authorities effectively ended the country’s regime of mass testing, lockdowns and long quarantines — but the abrupt reversal led to a spike in COVID cases.

Beijing announced in late December that inbound travelers to the country would no longer need to quarantine from Jan. 8, but kept in place visa restrictions on foreigners.

China resumed issuing a range of visas to foreigners in March, but inbound tourism remains at a fraction of pre-pandemic levels.

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