China on Friday announced that it has reduced the quarantine duration for travelers visiting the country and removed curbs on international flights in the first move to ease its stringent zero-Covid policy, the Global Times reported.

China’s zero-Covid policy has a two-pronged approach – prevention and containment. Prevention focuses on mass testing and placing suspects in government-run quarantines and later isolating them at home. The country also imposed strict lockdowns and restrictions on travel outside the country or among provinces under the policy.

The system has been described as unsustainable by the World Health Organization.

Many of these rules were discussed in a meeting on Thursday of the newly-elected Standing Committee – the country’s highest decision-making body.

The concessions iinclude putting close contacts of confirmed patients in centralised quarantine for five days and health observation at home for three days, the Global Times reported. Earlier, a person would have to be in centralised quarantine for seven days.

China has also reduced the quarantine period for close contacts of confirmed patients to five days from seven. The country will stop trying to identify secondary contacts – which included citizens who may have come in contact with a patient.

China also removed the circuit breaker mechanism that had been put in place for overseas inbound flights with Covid-infected passengers on board. Under the circuit breaker policy, Chinese authorities would suspend international flights for a prolonged period if any passengers tested positive for Covid-19 upon arrival. The flights also had to return without any passengers.

This resulted in massive losses for airlines, and also affected the restoration of flights between India and China for two years. Travellers had to take connecting flights from different countries, incurring a huge cost.

The new rules were announced even as China reported more than 10,000 cases on Thursday – a ten-fold jump over 15 days, PTI reported.

The Standing Committee on Thursday said that the virus could mutate during the winter and spring, increasing the number of outbreaks.