Hong Kong (CNN) The covid epidemic is spreading in China. Countries imposing travel restrictions on Chinese travelers, wary of importing virus. Scientists are warning against fear-mongering and xenophobia.
But it’s not in the early 2020s. It’s a familiar sight as China battles its biggest-ever outbreak, abandoning its strict zero-covid approach and partially reopening its borders three years into the pandemic.
About half of the 212 passengers who arrived at Italy’s Milan airport from China on Monday tested positive for Covid-19, a regional health chief said on Wednesday.
But while countries including the US and Japan have moved to impose restrictions, France and Britain have made it clear they are ready to welcome Chinese travelers – a major driver of international tourism before the pandemic. had lived.
Which countries are enforcing testing requirements?
Japan announced on Tuesday that all passengers who have either been to mainland China or traveled there within seven days will be tested on arrival starting Friday, and that the government will restrict flights to and from China. will limit the number.
The country’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida pointed to the Chinese government’s lack of official data. “While it is reported that the infection is spreading rapidly in mainland China, concern is growing in Japan as the detailed situation is difficult to understand,” he said.
Indian authorities have imposed similar guidelines on travelers not only from China but also from several nearby destinations, including Japan, South Korea and Thailand. Officials said on Tuesday that the guidelines are meant to ensure that Covid does not spread as quickly as it has in China.
Taiwan also announced mandatory tests for travelers arriving from mainland China on Wednesday. The self-ruled island has banned mainland Chinese tourists since the pandemic, and only allows Chinese nationals to visit for business or family reasons.
At all three locations, those found positive upon arrival must be quarantined for several days.
People walk with suitcases through the departure lobby of Beijing Airport on December 27.
The moves are particularly surprising given most of these places — especially in the West — have long reopened their borders and waived testing requirements as part of the transition to living with Covid. have done China responded on Wednesday by claiming that its Covid situation was “under control” and accused Western media of “distorting” its recent policy changes.
In Europe, Italy – the first country on the continent to suffer a large-scale outbreak in 2020 – announced it would require a Covid test for all travelers arriving from China, with the health minister saying “any form of identification must be done. . . for the protection of the Italian population.”
EU health security officials will also meet on Thursday to discuss the China outbreak and any “possible measures”, the EU Commission said on Twitter.
So what are the different types of risk?
Yan Zhonghuang, a senior fellow in global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, acknowledged the risk of a new strain emerging in “unvaccinated populations.”
“Although (in China) officially they have vaccinated 90% of the population with two doses of the inactivated vaccine, you still have a large percentage of the elderly who are not vaccinated … and many People have done this more than six months ago, so their antibody levels are already very low,” he said. “So we cannot rule out the possibility that new forms may emerge in China and spread to other parts of the world.”
A federal U.S. Department of Health official pointed to the speed of the outbreak in China, saying: “Because so many people have been infected in China in such a short period of time, it is possible and likely that a new strain will emerge.” “
U.S. officials have also expressed concern about China’s lack of transparency regarding the recent surge in cases, particularly the absence of genome-sequencing information that could help detect new strains of the coronavirus. Help may be available.
However, GISEAD, a global virus database, said Chinese authorities are collecting more genomic information from recent samples — and that it matches variants that are already circulating globally.
Karen Grippin, an associate professor at the University of Hong Kong’s School of Public Health, said the country’s best defense against potential variants is to focus on domestic policies to protect its own population – such as increasing vaccinations, social distancing Retention and others. Basic measures of public health.
“In many parts of the world, the pandemic feels like it’s over … but at the end of the day, (these measures) are ultimately what stop the transmission of the virus,” he said.
“If countries are at a point where they think those things aren’t important anymore, because for example they’ve built up so much immunity in the population, then why care about a few new cases coming out of China? “
Are the measures effective?
Despite the potential danger, many health experts have widely criticized the new testing requirements as ineffective at best and alarmist at worst.
“I see no compelling reason to justify this move,” said Huang of the Council on Foreign Relations. “We still have no evidence to support whether such variants are indeed emerging in mainland China.”
“I can understand the concerns about the lack of sharing of genomic sequences, because of the lack of transparency,” he added. “But even with the ban, we cannot stop the spread of the virus. And assuming that new strains are indeed emerging in mainland China, we will only delay the spread, we will not stop the virus from spreading to other parts. will.” World.”
Gripen echoed this point, saying: “In reality, we have virtually no scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of these measures.”
If an infectious form emerges, it will enter the U.S. through other countries anyway, he said, noting that the restrictions “did very little” when the U.K. came out last fall. .
He added that pre-departure testing — which the U.S. requires — is also only partially effective, because many new strains have a short incubation period, meaning “there will still be cases that Will get through it.”
Political pressure and xenophobia
There are a few reasons why countries are imposing these restrictions despite their questionable use, Grappen said — one is the fear that Chinese Covid patients will be completely overwhelmed and seek treatment at home hospitals. And can run away.
But, he added, that is highly unlikely. Travel volume from China is still extremely low, partly due to the limited number of flights. And with the rate at which Covid is spreading, it will become a logistical challenge for infected patients to quickly get visas and book flights abroad.
Instead, the recent wave of sanctions likely reflects “political pressure (on the authorities) to do something,” he said. “We see one country do it and then other countries follow suit.”
Medical staff treat patients at a hospital in Jiangsu, China on December 28.
CFOTO/Future Publishing/Getty Images
Experts are also warning that isolating China could increase the risk of anti-Chinese racism, as seen early in the pandemic when Asians around the world faced discrimination and violent hate crimes. was lying
Huang said China is not the only place seeing an increase in cases. “I don’t see why China should be treated any differently than other countries like Australia, for example, which is swimming in Covid,” he added.
The U.S. is likely still importing tens of thousands of cases from around the world right now, Greppen said, adding that 1 to 3 percent of all international travelers have Covid — so especially those coming from one country. There is no point in targeting the covid.
“We’ve seen this throughout the pandemic — when people from a certain place are targeted for certain measures, it reinforces stereotypes or beliefs that viruses are coming from certain parts of the world. … That’s simply not true.” she said.
Which countries are welcoming the return of Chinese travelers?
On the contrary, many countries have opened their doors to welcome.
The tourism departments and embassies of France, Thailand, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Austria and Switzerland posted messages on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, inviting all Chinese tourists. are
“Chinese friends, France welcomes you with open hearts!” The French embassy wrote on Weibo. The Thai National Tourism Administration wrote: “Thailand has been waiting for you for three years!”
Many Weibo users celebrated their newfound freedom to travel, with the hashtag “Where to go abroad next year” garnering nearly 80 million views.
According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, China alone contributed 51 percent of the travel and tourism GDP in the Asia-Pacific region in 2018. And Chinese travelers accounted for 30% of visitors to Thailand in general.
CNN’s Cheng Cheng, Pierre Melhan, Kevin Liptak, Valentina DiDonato, Eric Cheung, Amy Jozuka and CNN’s Beijing Bureau contributed reporting.