Travelers from China now face restrictions when entering more than a dozen countries as concern grows over a rise in Covid-19 cases, with Australia the latest to require a negative test before arrival.
Last month, Beijing abruptly began dismantling its “zero-covid” containment policy of mass closures and testing, three years after the coronavirus first appeared in the city of Wuhan.
As Covid overwhelms China’s hospitals and crematoria, officials have insisted the surge is “under control” despite acknowledging it is “impossible” to track the true scale of infections.
Australia’s health minister on Sunday cited Beijing’s “lack of comprehensive information” on Covid cases as the reason behind the travel requirement, which will take effect on January 5. The move “will protect Australia from the risk of potential new variants emerging”, he said. .
In recent days, Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Spain, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan have also imposed a negative Covid test or test on arrival requirement for travelers from China.
Canada cited the “limited epidemiologic and viral genomic sequence data available” on recent Covid cases in China for the negative demand for testing.
Meanwhile, Morocco moved to ban all arrivals from China on Saturday, “to avoid a new wave of infections in Morocco and all its consequences.”
The flurry of global travel restrictions began as countries expected a surge in Chinese visitors after Beijing announced a mandatory quarantine for inbound travelers would end on January 8.
The World Health Organization called the precautions “built-in” given the lack of outbreak information provided by Beijing.
But the European branch of Airports Council International – which represents more than 500 airports in 55 European countries – said the restrictions were not justified or risk-based.
European countries will meet next week to discuss a joint response to the issue, with incoming EU president Sweden saying she is “looking for a common EU-wide policy when it comes to introducing possible entry restrictions.”
– ‘Light of Hope’ –
While some large Chinese cities appear to be emerging from the current wave of infections, smaller cities and rural areas with a lack of resources have been hit particularly hard.
In response to the outbreak, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said on Sunday that she was “willing to provide necessary assistance based on humanitarian concerns,” but did not specify what kind of aid might be given to Beijing, which considers itself self-governing. A breakaway province island.
But in his televised New Year’s address, Chinese President Xi Jinping struck an upbeat note.
“Prevention and control of epidemics are entering a new phase… everyone is working with determination, and the light of hope is right in front of us,” Shay said in a speech broadcast on state media on Saturday.
It was the second time Xi has commented on the outburst this week. On Monday he called for measures to “effectively protect people’s lives”.
Despite the jump in infections, crowds still gathered for New Year’s Eve celebrations in Shanghai and Wuhan, although some social media users said the celebrations seemed more subdued than in previous years.
China on Sunday reported more than 5,100 new infections and one Covid-related death out of its population of 1.4 billion – but the figures appear to be out of step with the reality on the ground.