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When China reopens its doors, many countries impose Covid restrictions on it, Expert: No one else is to blame for this

Passengers use their smartphones to fill in the health declaration after checking in at the international flight check-in counter at Beijing Capital International Airport.
Passengers use their smartphones to fill in the health declaration after checking in at the international flight check-in counter at Beijing Capital International Airport.

WASHINGTON — China fully liberalized entry and exit control measures from January 8, marking the official end of the “zero policy” that has lasted for nearly three years. However, several countries around the world have also begun to implement limited travel restrictions against China, mainly requiring travelers to provide proof of a negative coronavirus test within 48 hours before departure. The rationale for this is that the surge in cases in China and inadequate and opaque sharing of information on the outbreak could lead to the emergence of more dangerous variants. China has objected and threatened retaliation, but health experts say travel restrictions do not prevent the introduction of new strains, but in the absence of more detailed information from China on the outbreak, such measures make sense and are understandable.

China has reopened its country, and all countries are waiting for it

China’s measures include no longer conducting nucleic acid testing and centralized quarantine for all arrivals, requiring only one negative nucleic acid test result in 48 hours before departure, and lifting the “five ones” and load factor restrictions for international passenger flights. At the same time, the resumption includes accepting and approving applications for ordinary passports by Chinese citizens for travel abroad or visiting friends, issuing entry-exit passes, applying for Hong Kong and Macao permits for mainland residents, and passenger clearance at land and water transport ports.

The relaxation of quarantine measures on entry since the outbreak of the new crown epidemic means that the demand for Chinese citizens to go abroad will increase significantly. Ctrip (Trip.com), a popular travel booking service in China, saw a 300 percent surge in outbound bookings after the Chinese government announced it would ease entry controls on December 27.

However, the abrupt abandonment of the strict dynamic zero policy led to the first exposure of many of China’s 1.4 billion people to the coronavirus, triggering a tsunami of infections, overwhelming many hospitals, selling out pharmacy shelves, and overwhelming funeral homes and crematoriums. Scientists say variants like Omicron can easily spread quickly in places where few people have been infected before.

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The surge in coronavirus cases in China immediately drew international attention, with more than a dozen countries now requiring Covid testing for travelers from China. Italy, India, Japan, and the United States were the first countries to impose new restrictions on travelers from China. U.S. health officials say China has provided very limited data on the coronavirus outbreak that has swept across the country.

Jennifer Nuzzo, director of the Center for Pandemics at Brown University’s School of Public Health, said requiring travelers from China to provide a negative coronavirus test two days before arrival would not stop the spread of the virus. “But given the scale of the outbreak in China and the sudden drop in its transparency, I can understand why countries are nervous and trying to slow the importation of the virus until they can learn more,” Nuzzo said in an email to the media.

WHO: China does not provide enough information on the outbreak

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), said on December 21 that the WHO needed more detailed information to understand the possible risks posed by the outbreak in China. “In the absence of comprehensive information from China, it is understandable that countries around the world are acting in ways they believe may protect their populations,” he tweeted on Dec. 29. ”

As I said at our most recent press conference – in order to make a comprehensive risk assessment of the #COVID19 situation on the ground in #China, @WHO needs more detailed information.https://t.co/5s9LPbLiCj

— Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (@DrTedros) December 29, 2022

On January 4, WHO again urged the Chinese government to rapidly improve reliable data on hospitalizations and deaths, both of which some officials believe are underestimated by the data provided by China on coronavirus cases. Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, said the figures released by China underestimated the impact of the outbreak, particularly in terms of deaths. He said the Chinese government’s definition of coronavirus deaths was too narrow.

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The Chinese health authorities define coronavirus deaths as deaths caused by respiratory failure directly caused by the virus; Deaths due to other illnesses or underlying conditions are not classified as COVID-caused deaths. China’s top health authority, the National Health Commission, no longer publishes daily new cases, and the work is transferred to the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency reported only three new deaths on Jan. 6, and never reported more than five new daily deaths in the past week.

As China reopened its doors on January 8, some countries required travelers from China to provide proof of a negative coronavirus test. Portugal is one of the latest European countries to join the requirement for passengers from China to provide proof of a negative Covid test. Germany, Belgium, and Luxembourg have proposed canceling non-essential travel to China.

Testing requirements in Portugal came into effect on Sunday. In addition, passengers and crew traveling to and from China must wear masks during the flight, and wastewater will be monitored at Lisbon Airport to identify virus strains and perform genome sequencing. Thailand, another popular destination for Chinese tourists, requires arrivals starting Monday to have proof of at least two doses of the vaccine, purchase medical insurance that includes coronavirus treatment, and take a coronavirus nucleic acid test before departure, but these requirements are not limited to travelers from China.

Lawrence Gostin, O’Neill Professor of Global Health Law at Georgetown University, said: “Due to the explosive growth of cases in China, it is politically difficult, if not impossible, not to require [Covid] testing. ”

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Gostin is also the Director of WHO’s Centre for Public Health Law and Population Coordination. In an email to the media, he said, “We also need better genomic surveillance to quickly identify dangerous variants of the virus.” ”

China also requires a 48-hour negative nucleic acid test certificate

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning reiterated at a regular press conference on January 6 that the epidemic prevention measures of various countries “should be scientific and moderate, should not affect normal people-to-people exchanges and cooperation between countries, should not be discriminatory, and should not take advantage of political manipulation.” She also said, “In response to the unreasonable practices introduced by some countries, China will take corresponding measures in accordance with the principle of reciprocity in light of the epidemic situation and the need for prevention and control.” ”

Benjamin Cowling, an epidemiologist at the University of Hong Kong, said in an email to the media, “My understanding is that China continues to require proof of a negative nucleic acid test for people entering China.” He asked rhetorically, “Are they saying that their policies are unscientific and excessive?” ”

Passengers at Beijing International Airport
Passengers at Beijing International Airport

“China is not in a position to criticize Western travel restrictions,” said Gosting of Georgetown University, “because for quite some time Beijing had some of the most punitive and severe travel restrictions in the world.” ”

Although the prevailing view among epidemiologists remains that travel restrictions targeting a single country are ineffective against more contagious variants, the measures taken in many countries are still valuable.

“Surveillance of travelers for infections and virus strains is valuable for understanding and can be done on a voluntary basis at some airports.” Gao Benen of the University of Hong Kong said.

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