For over two years, Asian governments have imposed tough border restrictions to stop imported COVID cases. Even as the rest of the world rolled back their controls, parts of Asia continued to force inbound travelers to spend time in quarantine, or capped the number of tourists that could arrive each day.
But, in the span of two days, several Asian governments finally relented, announcing an end to quarantines and other travel restrictions in a bid to revive their economies.
Here are the places that have recently announced changes to their border restrictions:
Hong Kong’s government announced on Friday that it would end hotel quarantine for inbound travelers, starting Sep. 26. It would also allow travelers to present a negative result from a rapid antigen test before travel, rather than a PCR test.
The city is still preserving some COVID restrictions. Arrivals would be barred from engaging in activities deemed high-risk, like in-person dining, for three days after arrival. They would also need to undergo regular PCR testing in the days following their arrival.
Yet Hong Kong residents, desperate to travel, flocked to book long-delayed trips as reports of the policy change emerged on Friday. Cathay Pacific, the city’s flagship airline, gave prospective travelers just 30 minutes to complete their bookings as it tried to handle a surge of web traffic immediately following the announcement.
Hong Kong has forced international travelers to spend time in hotel quarantine since March 2020. These lengthy isolation periods—at times as long as three weeks—have frustrated the business community. Businesses complained that COVID restrictions damaged the city’s international competitiveness, and made it impossible to hire and retain talent.
The city’s Financial Secretary said on Thursday that there was a “very high chance” the city records negative GDP growth for the year.
On Thursday, Taiwan said it wanted to remove inbound quarantine for international arrivals by Oct. 13. The island’s government also said that it would increase the weekly quota for arrivals to 60,000 by Sep. 23, up from 50,000, and would eventually increase the cap to 150,000. Travelers who qualified for visa-free access before the pandemic could also again visit the island without a visa.
Arrivals currently have to quarantine for three days.
Taiwan officials signaled they wanted to scale back COVID restrictions earlier this summer by easing some domestic social distancing rules. Officials pointed to low hospitalizations and death rates from the Omicron variant as a reason to start “living with the virus.”
Also on Thursday, Japan’s government announced that the country would reopen to all individual tourists on Oct. 11. The country will also restore visa-free access to countries that had that status before the pandemic.
Previously, Japan forced potential tourists to join package tours if they wanted to visit the country, and had strict rules on what tourists could and could not do. That slowed the country’s tourism recovery, with only 8,000 tourists visiting the country in July, compared to 80,000 daily before the pandemic, according to Reuters.
Japan’s business community now hopes to see an influx of tourists hoping to take advantage of the weak yen.
Elsewhere in Asia
Thailand announced on Friday that it would end a state of emergency spurred by the COVID pandemic at the end of the month. The country will now treat COVID-19 similarly to influenza and dengue, as diseases that warrant surveillance rather than continued controls. The Thai government will also no longer require proof of vaccination to enter the country from next month.
Another country opening to tourists is Bhutan, which allowed international travelers on Friday for the first time in over two years. But there’s a catch: all foreign tourists have to pay a daily tax of $200, up from $65, which the remote Asian country calls a “sustainable development fee.”
Many countries in Southeast Asia scaled back their COVID restrictions earlier this year. Singapore ended quarantine for vaccinated travelers in April, and in late August, the city-state said it would end indoor mask mandates.
Singapore is trying to attract international business, conferences, and global talent as part of its post-COVID recovery, especially as competitors like Hong Kong languished with COVID restrictions. Singapore is now Asia’s top financial center, according to the Global Financial Centres Index, beating Hong Kong.
The odd one out
There’s a big exception to the reopening spree: mainland China, which maintains seven days of hotel quarantine for all international arrivals. China’s government follows a strict COVID-zero policy, which uses snap lockdowns and mass testing even after a handful of cases. Non-Chinese companies are struggling to get foreign staff to move to China due to concerns about the country’s COVID policies, reports the Wall Street Journal.
Yet at least one group of arrivals are now able to enter the country. In late August, China announced that international students could finally apply for student visas to attend Chinese universities, two years into the pandemic.
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