Is bias, not science, behind COVID-19 curbs on China travellers? | Coronavirus pandemic News

More than 10 countries have recently imposed COVID-19 restrictions on travelers from China, upsetting what they see as selective scientific consumption of Chinese people.

Countries such as France, Italy, Japan and the United States impose various conditions on tourists from China, including negative pre-departure tests, on-arrival tests and fever checks.

South Korea went a step further and announced visa restrictions for Chinese citizens, prompting Beijing to retaliate by suspending short-term visas for South Koreans.

“Some countries have restricted access to Chinese tourists only. There is no scientific basis for this,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning said earlier this month.

The number of COVID cases and deaths has exploded over the past month after China abruptly scrapped its “zero-COVID” strategy and lifted travel restrictions.

According to Chinese government data, about 60,000 people died from the virus between December 8 and January 12, but this number may underestimate the true death toll.

Still, civil rights groups and scholars are questioning what they see as China-centric COVID restrictions.

“We are very concerned about how this new policy could hurt Asians and Asian Americans,” Manjusha Kulkarni, founder of US-based Asian American Pacific Islander Stop Hate (Stop Asian AAPI Hate), told Al Jazeera. .

“In 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic, our former president (Donald Trump) was banned from traveling to China, just like today,” Kulkarni said in an email.

Trump’s travel ban, along with casual anti-China rhetoric, led to a rise in anti-Asian and Asian-American hatred in the United States, which “continues to affect our society today,” Kulkarni said.

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In October, AAPI Hate published a report on how the political discourse surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic has led to anti-Asian crimes.

“Misinformation and misinformation linking Asian Americans to the disease” needs to stop, Kulkarni said.

“Elected officials must advocate for public health policies that keep our communities safe so that Asians and Asian Americans are not harmed.”

“Sea Drop”

Sol Richardson, an epidemiologist at Beijing-based Tsinghua University, said there was no risk “epidemiologically” to countries that allowed Chinese-resident travelers to enter, as there were variants leading the rise of COVID in China, such as Omicron subversion BA.5. , is already rolling elsewhere.

“This [BA.5] and related versions are already available in many countries and are the first versions in the Western world. “Similar versions have been found in travelers from China in Western countries,” he told Al Jazeera.

“Based on the information provided by the government, BA.5 accounts for 97.5 percent of all local infections in China. In this sense, in Western countries, population immunity is high and vaccines are not a concern at the moment,” said Richardson.

Michael Mina, an epidemiologist and chief scientific officer at eMed, a telehealth company, said it’s unlikely that China’s travel restrictions will have a significant impact.

“With the implementation of these restrictions in the United States and most countries, the local spread (close to endemic spread) is very important. Cases imported from China or elsewhere show a drop in the sea of ​​cases every day,” Mina told Al Jazeera.

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“With hundreds of thousands of cases occurring in the United States at any given time, the importation of additional cases is relatively small.”

Mina said the restrictions could “limit” the introduction of new variants of COVID-19, but so far countries have not been able to prevent “high fitness variants” from emerging and spreading around the world.

Better detection is needed for this.

“Knowledge” is key during a pandemic, Meena said.

“Knowing where and when the virus is present is the first step to proper control.”

“When we have an outbreak, we need faster and better detection. We need to improve our indoor air quality – it’s an effort that will take years or decades,” he added.

Also, it’s important to maintain “basic control methods” that are stable and continuous, he said, citing sewage queues as an example.

According to Mina, Tsinghua University’s Richardson said genome sequencing, rather than travel restrictions, is the key to stopping the spread of the virus.

“I think the solution is genomic testing of positive COVID cases. WHO [World Health Organization] It is recommended both in China and around the world,” he said.

“Yes, China currently has the highest number of COVID cases in the world and has a large population. However, new versions may appear anywhere in the world.”

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Opinions differ

As with the competing scientific arguments, opinions on international travel restrictions differ between people in China and Hong Kong.

Hong Kong resident Arthur said the sanctions seemed “reasonable”, while Guo, a Chinese national studying in the UK and a PhD student, said he was disappointed.

“The Chinese government has never been fully transparent about the COVID situation,” Arthur told Al Jazeera, citing the government’s inconsistent infection numbers during the pandemic that began in late 2019.

The WHO also criticized Beijing’s lack of transparency, saying it was “understandable” that travel restrictions would be imposed if Beijing authorities did not provide “comprehensive” information.

Guo, 28, from Huainan, Anhui Province, had planned to return to London from his hometown in China via Shanghai on January 28.

However, because the UK now requires a negative test 48 hours before departure, Guo said, English-language COVID tests are not available, meaning he must travel to China’s most populous city, Shanghai, at least two days ahead of schedule. results in his city.

“Now I have to rebook my flight and look for accommodation. I have no family or friends to stay in Shanghai,” he said.

The extra trip to Shanghai was “disappointing, frankly,” but Guo said the rescheduling meant he would spend less time with his family during the Chinese New Year, which begins on Sunday.

“I’m very disappointed about it,” he said.


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