NEW YORK – Nations across the globe are implementing or considering measures to test or restrict travellers from China as the country of 1.4 billion abandons its zero-Covid policy and prepares to reopen borders in early January.
The US is considering new coronavirus precautions for people travelling from China amid questions about the transparency of data China is reporting about the spread of the virus, according to American officials, who asked not to be identified.
Japan moved quickly yesterday to announce steps requiring a negative Covid-19 test upon arrival soon after Beijing said it no longer subject inbound travellers to quarantine from Jan 8.
China is rapidly dismantling its stringent pandemic measures in the face of discontent with zero-Covid rules, triggering outbreaks across the country.
Uncertainty over the true scale of infections without reliable official figures is fuelling concern that the rapid spread of the virus could lead to the emergence of new variants.
China is experiencing the world’s largest Covid-19 outbreak, raising concerns among public-health officials worldwide.
Almost 37 million people may have been infected with the virus on a single day last week, according to estimates from the government’s top health authority.
Earlier this week, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said there are “great discrepancies” in information coming out of the country, fuelling growing concern.
Japan will require negative Covid-19 test results upon arrival for visitors who have been in mainland China within a seven-day period, while those who test positive will have to quarantine for a week.
The US is weighing similar steps, the officials said, as a way to prevent further spread.
India began random testing of about 2 per cent of passengers arriving from other countries at all international airports a week ago to minimise the risk of any new variant entering the country.
Holiday bookings for outbound flights from mainland China jumped 254 per cent Tuesday morning from the day before, according to Trip.com Group data, underscoring how the country’s vast population is ready and hungry for travel.
The top five destinations were Singapore, with a 600 per cent increase in bookings, followed by about 400 per cent for South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan and Thailand.
China will start issuing new passports and Hong Kong travel permits to mainland residents, the National Immigration Administration said in an announcement on WeChat late on Monday. Express checkpoints on the borders with Hong Kong and Macau will resume, while applications by foreigners to extend or renew visas will also re-commence as part of the relaxation of measures on Jan 8.
Taiwan may also adjust Covid-19 measures such as testing as it anticipates tens of thousands of people returning from the Chinese mainland for the Chinese New Year later in January, Cabinet spokesman Lo Ping-cheng said in a statement. While Taiwan currently does not allow mainland Chinese tourists to get in, many Taiwanese work and invest in the mainland.
Philippine Transport Secretary Jaime Bautista called for Covid-19 measures on Wednesday, including testing on inbound travellers from China. “We should be very cautious because if they have a lot of Covid cases, we should be careful about Chinese visitors coming into the Philippines,” he told reporters.
But some countries are unfazed by China’s Covid-19 outbreak.
Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo has said that he is not worried about a possible surge of Covid-19 infection caused by foreign tourists.
“As long as our serosurvey shows results above 90 per cent, which means we already have proper immunity, then whatever comes our way won’t be a problem,” said the Mr Widodo, in response to questions on how the government plans to anticipate the rise of Covid-19 infections in China.
Thailand’s Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) said it is working with its five offices in China – in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Kunming and Chengdu – to revise its plan to attract Chinese tourists to Thailand.
“Chinese travel agencies have launched travel packages to Thailand for the upcoming Chinese New Year festival,” said TAT executive director of the East Asia region, Mr Chuwit Sirivejkul.
Visitors from China were Thailand’s largest tourism market before the pandemic struck in 2020.
Thai Tourism and Sports Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn said Thailand would increase next year’s target for international tourists, from 20 million to 25 million, following Beijing’s announcement. This will help the country reach its 2023 tourism revenue target of 2.38 trillion baht (S$92 billion), the minister said.
In Germany, a government official said the country currently sees no need to impose new travel restrictions for people coming from China.
“We are monitoring the situation in China very closely, but at the moment we have no indication that a more dangerous mutation has developed... which would justify the declaration of a virus variant zone,” a health ministry spokesperson said.
Such a status requires anyone entering Germany to quarantine for two weeks on arrival.
The new US travel precautions are based on consultations with public health experts and international partners, officials said. They said the talks have been prompted in part by concerns over the lack of genomic sequencing data that could help identify the emergence of a new variant.
Health experts have said they’re worried that the virus’s unabated spread could spawn a dangerous new variant for the first time since the Omicron strain caused infections to surge more than a year ago.
GISAID, the global consortium that maintains a database for scientists around the world to share coronavirus sequences to monitor mutations, said on Tuesday that China has ramped up its surveillance amid the ongoing outbreak.
All the sequences shared by the Chinese health authorities suggest the viruses fuelling the massive nationwide outbreak closely resemble the circulating variants found in the rest of the world since July, they added. BLOOMBERG, THE JAKARTA POST, THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK