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US, Italy latest to require testing of China travellers

China is seeing outbreaks across the country, with almost 37 million people possibly having been infected on a single day

© Photo credit: AFP

Source: Bloomberg

The US and Italy joined an increasing number of nations requiring Covid tests for travellers from China, with concerns mounting over the risk of any new variants emerging from the surge in infections in the country of 1.4 billion.

Japan and Taiwan unveiled similar measures this week, while South Korea and other countries are considering following suit.

Although exact figures aren’t known, China is seeing outbreaks across the country, with almost 37 million people possibly having been infected on a single day last week. At the same time, Chinese authorities have announced a border reopening on 8 January.

In a complete reversal of its Covid Zero policy, China abandoned its strict lockdown measures in recent weeks. The country’s decision to loosen inbound and outbound travel restrictions has, in turn, fuelled concern across the globe of the spread of infections, particularly new variants.

While China’s reopening brightens prospects for tourism and retailers at popular destinations in Asia and beyond, countries are becoming wary of the risks of a resurgence in infections.

The testing requirements recently put in place in other countries are reminiscent of the restrictions China has maintained for much of the past three years when it tried to stop Covid from seeping into its borders.

Wang Wenbin, a spokesman at China’s foreign ministry, said Covid measures in all countries should be science-based and appropriate, and not impact normal people-to-people exchange.

Italy, the first European country to be hit hard by Covid in early 2020, is urging other nations in the region to adopt a collective testing agreement, given that they’re part of the open-border Schengen Area.

The European Union’s Health Security Committee will meet Thursday to discuss the Covid situation in China and “possible measures to be taken in a coordinated way,” it said in a Twitter post.

Travelers to the US coming directly from China or who were in the country 10 days before their departure to the US will have to show either a negative PCR or antigen test for the coronavirus, federal health officials said Wednesday. The requirement applies to all passengers regardless of nationality or vaccination status and will go into effect 5 January at 12:01 a.m. New York time.

Passengers who tested positive more than 10 days before traveling can provide documentation and recovery from Covid in lieu of a negative test result, the officials said on the call. Airlines will need to confirm the negative Covid test or documentation of recovery prior to boarding flights to the US. The requirement also applies to travellers from Hong Kong and Macau.

People traveling to Taiwan from China during Jan. 1 to 31 will be subject to PCR testing after arrival, the Taiwan Centers for Disease Control said. Those who test positive will be required to quarantine for five days.

In Italy, there was a scare Milan earlier this week, when almost half of the passengers on two flights from China tested positive for the virus, although most weren’t showing symptoms of the disease. Even so, Health Minister Orazio Schillaci said there was “no concern” that a new variant will be found in the Milan tests.

The UK, Australia and Germany haven’t yet introduced any new restrictions on travelers from China, although they are monitoring developments closely.

At the same time, several countries have also taken steps to welcome Chinese tourists who’ve not been able to venture abroad for the past three years. The French embassy in Beijing said on the Weibo social media platform Tuesday that the country welcomes Chinese travellers with open arms. The tourism bureaus of Thailand, Australia, New Zealand and several other European nations have publicly expressed similar sentiments.

The surge in cases in China, however, is highlighting the risk of new variants emerging. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will expand its viral genomic surveillance program of travellers to two additional airports, bringing the total number collecting samples for sequencing to seven. Passengers boarding hundreds of flights from at least 30 countries are covered by the program.

US health officials had been considering taking new coronavirus precautions for travellers from China amid concerns over lack of transparency around case data, Bloomberg reported earlier. US health experts are particularly concerned about the emergence of new variants that might not be picked up in testing in China, the officials said on the call. Health officials said they’ll continue to press China to release data and genome sequences of the virus.

The high number of people affected over a very short period of time raises the chances of a new variant emerging, health officials said. China is submitting few sequences of the virus to an international database that tracks mutations, the officials said. New mutations can make the virus more transmissible or more deadly.

GISAID, the global database tracking Covid mutations, told Bloomberg News in an email on Tuesday that China continues to ramp up genomic surveillance of the coronavirus circulating across different parts of the country.

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.