The Chinese government says it will start issuing new passports as it dismantles anti-virus travel barriers, setting up a potential flood of millions of tourists out of China for next month's Lunar New Year holiday.
That raises the possibility of an influx of free-spending Chinese visitors to revenue-starved destinations in Asia and Europe in what usually is the country's busiest travel season. But it also presents a danger tourists might spread COVID-19 as infections surge in China.
China stopped issuing passports at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 as part of the world's strictest anti-virus controls and tried to block students, businesspeople and other travelers from going abroad. Tourist travel into China was shut down. Businesspeople and others who were allowed in were quarantined for up to one week.
Tuesday's announcement adds to abrupt changes that roll back a "zero-COVID" strategy that confined millions of families to their homes. It kept infection rates low but fueled public frustration and crushed economic growth.
The National Immigration Administration of China said it will start taking applications Jan. 8 for ordinary passports for tourism. It said it will resume issuing approval for Chinese travelers to visit Hong Kong for tourism and business.
The government also has dropped or eased most quarantine, testing and other rules within China, joining the United States, Japan and other governments in trying to live with the virus instead of stamping out transmission.
Japan and India responded to China's surge in infections by requiring virus tests for travelers from the country.