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Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Is prejudice, not science, behind COVID-19 restrictions on Chinese travelers?

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With more than a dozen countries recently imposing COVID-19 restrictions on travelers from China, the Chinese are deeply frustrated by what some see as a selective application of science. Countries such as France, Italy, Japan, and the United States impose various conditions on travelers from China, including negative pre-departure tests, on-arrival tests, and fever tests.

“Some countries have taken entry restrictions targeting only Chinese travelers. This lacks scientific basis,” China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said earlier this month. China has experienced an explosion in COVID cases and deaths over the past month after abruptly doing away with the country’s strict “zero-COVID” strategy and dropping restrictions on travel. Some 60,000 people were reported to have died from the virus between December 8 and January 12, according to the Chinese government, though even that figure could underestimate the true extent of the death toll.

Beijing-based epidemiologist Sol Richardson of Tsinghua University said there is no significant risk from an “epidemiological perspective” to countries allowing entry to China-based travelers, since variants leading the COVID surges in China, such as the Omicron sub-variant BA.5, are already circulating elsewhere.“This [BA.5] and related variants already exist in many countries and are the primary variants in the Western world. The same variants have been found in travelers from China arriving in Western countries,”  Richardson told news portals.

But the UK now requires a negative test 48 hours before departure which would mean they would have to leave for Shanghai, China’s most populous city. Guo said the extra trip to Shanghai was “disappointing and, frankly, inconvenient”, but the change in itinerary meant he would spend less time with his family during the Chinese New Year, which begins on Sunday.

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