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China reopens its borders as lunar new year travel rush begins

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China has lifted one of its final Covid-19 quarantine measures, as international travellers arrive onshore

After almost three years of strict Covid-19 measures, China has opened its border.

On Sunday, mainland China opened to Hong Kong travellers as part of the last Covid-zero strategy, which has been a hallmark of Beijing’s response to the pandemic.

The policy, which had been described as “draconian” by Human Rights Watch, had largely kept China’s 1.4 billion people safe from the virus.

However, it had also cut Beijing off from the rest of the world and led to nationwide protests at some of the nation’s largest univerisities.

One woman told the AFP news agency she was pleased with the easing of restrictions, while waiting at Shanghai’s Pudong international airport.

“I think it’s really good that the policy has changed now, it’s really humane.”

“It’s a necessary step, I think. Covid has become normalised now and after this hurdle everything will be smooth,” she said.

As the Covid measures were loosened, many rushed to plan travel abroad.

However, some European countries imposed mandatory pre-departure Covid-19 tests on Chinese travellers.

The European Union said tests should be taken not more than 48 hours prior to departure from China.

It follows a rise in locally-acquired Covid-19 infection across China, making it the nation’s worst-ever outbreak.

Travel freedom as lunar new year looms

Millions of Chinese travellers are expected to take to the skies as China enters its busy lunar new year holiday period.

On Saturday, China marked the start of the 40-day travel period.

China’s Ministry of Transport said more than 2 billion passengers will travel in the 40-day holiday period.

Beijing officials believe it would mark 70 per cent of the holiday traffic seen on pre-pandemic figures.

Costa is a news producer at ticker NEWS. He has previously worked as a regional journalist at the Southern Highlands Express newspaper. He also has several years' experience in the fire and emergency services sector, where he has worked with researchers, policymakers and local communities. He has also worked at the Seven Network during their Olympic Games coverage and in the ABC Melbourne newsroom. He also holds a Bachelor of Arts (Professional), with expertise in journalism, politics and international relations. His other interests include colonial legacies in the Pacific, counter-terrorism, aviation and travel.

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U.S. fighters shoot down Chinese spy balloon – now what?

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U.S. military fighter aircraft shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon as it floated off the coast of South Carolina on Saturday, drawing to a close a dramatic saga that shone a spotlight on worsening Sino-U.S. relations.

“We successfully took it down, and I want to compliment our aviators who did it,” President Joe Biden said.

Biden said he had issued an order on Wednesday to take down the balloon, but the Pentagon had recommended waiting until it could be done over open water to safeguard civilians from debris crashing down to Earth from thousands of feet (meters) above commercial air traffic.

China has mounted “the largest intelligence operation in the history of the human race” against the US and Australia, a former top US intelligence official has warned, as the US military shot down a Chinese spy balloon as it neared the Atlantic coast above the Carolinas.

Multiple fighter and refueling aircraft were involved in the mission, but only one — an F-22 fighter jet from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia — took the shot at 2:39 p.m. (1939 GMT), using a single AIM-9X supersonic, heat-seeking, air-to-air missile, a senior U.S. military official said.

The balloon was shot down about six nautical miles off the U.S. coast, over relatively shallow water, potentially aiding efforts to recover key elements of the Chinese surveillance equipment among the debris in the coming days, officials said.

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Russia throws more troops at Ukraine front line

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy says the situation on the front lines in the east of the country is getting tougher and Russia was throwing more and more troops into battle.

Russian forces are slowly gaining ground in the Donbas region, encircling the city of Bakhmut north of Donetsk and battling to take control of a nearby road which is a major supply route for Ukrainian forces. They are also trying to capture Vuhledar, southwest of Donetsk.

“I’ve often had to say the situation at the front is tough, and is getting tougher, and it’s that time again. … The invader is putting more and more of his forces into breaking down our defences,” Zelenskiy said in a video address.

“It is very difficult now in Bakhmut, Vuhledar, Lyman and other directions,” he continued.

Earlier in the day, Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar wrote on Telegram that Russian efforts to break the defences in Bakhmut and Lyman had failed.

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Balloon diplomacy blows China off course

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China claims an “airship” that is flying over the United States is for civilian meteorological and other scientific purposes and voiced regret that it strayed into U.S. airspace.

U.S. officials said on Thursday that a Chinese spy balloon has been flying over the United States for a couple of days, in what would be a brazen act just days ahead of a planned trip to Beijing by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

In a statement late on Friday, China’s foreign ministry also said that it would continue to maintain communications with the United States to properly handle the unexpected situation.

“The airship is from China and is civilian in nature, used for meteorological and other scientific research. Due to the influence of westerly winds and its limited control capability, the airship deviated from its intended course,” it said.

“China regrets that the airship strayed into the United States by mistake due to force majeure. China will continue to maintain communication with the U.S. side to properly handle this accident,” it said.

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