China hits back with ‘discriminatory’ COVID-19 travel restrictions as experts seek answers on new variants

Chinese state media criticized the country’s decision to impose mandatory COVID-19 tests on travelers from China who are now allowed to travel abroad for the first time since the pandemic began.
The state-run Global Times tabloid called the restrictions “baseless” and “discriminatory” in an article late Thursday.
“The real intention is to sabotage China’s three years of efforts to control COVID-19 and attack the country’s system,” he said.

After keeping its borders closed for three years, imposing a strict regime of lockdowns and relentless testing, China abruptly reversed course toward coexistence with the virus on Dec. 7. The number of cases reported by Beijing has increased considerably.

The head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, called for more transparency from Chinese officials about the pandemic situation in the country.
He said the decision by some countries to impose stricter COVID-19 testing requirements on travelers from China is “understandable,” given the lack of information from Chinese officials about the true extent of COVID-19 cases. 19 in the country.
“To make a comprehensive risk assessment of the Covid-19 situation on the ground in China, WHO needs more detailed information,” Dr Tedros said on Twitter.

“In the absence of full information from China, it’s understandable that countries around the world are acting in ways they believe can protect their populations.”

How are countries responding with travel rules for arrivals from China?

South Korea became the latest country to impose stricter COVID-19 testing requirements on arrivals from China.
A negative PCR test is required for travelers from China before and after arrival in South Korea.
The US, Italy, Japan, Taiwan, India and Malaysia have all announced their own measures to prevent the import of new variants from China.

The European Union’s health agency said on Thursday it believed the EU-wide introduction of mandatory COVID checks for travelers from China is currently “unwarranted”.

In Italy, the first European country to be hit by COVID-19 in early 2020, the government said the first results of its stricter screening of Chinese visitors since Wednesday has not detected any new variants of the coronavirus.
Those who have tested positive so far are carriers of “Omicron variants already present in Italy,” Meloni said at his year-end press conference.
Ms Meloni said the screening would likely be less effective than if it were done at the European level, as only people arriving on direct flights from China were being tested, not those with layovers.

Italian Health Minister Orazio Schillaci said he would push for the EU to implement screening across the bloc.

What do we know about new variants of COVID-19?

Epidemiologist Angela Webster said Australia may need to reinstate routine PCR testing for COVID-19 to ensure no new related variants emerge.
“There’s been a strong call for China to be much more transparent about what’s going on,” he told ABC TV.
“There could be new variants in China that circulate quickly and therefore potentially spread to the rest of the world that we’re not prepared for and haven’t been able to learn much about before it happens.”

He said it would be important to assess the impact the virus has over the holiday period.

Xu Wenbo, head of China’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s virus control institute, said last week that hospitals across the country would collect samples from patients and upload sequencing information to a new database of national data, which would allow authorities to monitor possible new strains in real time.
More than 130 Omicron sublines have been newly detected in China over the past three months, he told reporters.

BA.5.2 and BF.7 remain the main Omicron strains, although other variants have also been identified that have spread to the US and Europe in recent months. They include XXB, BQ.1 and their sublines.

Antoine Flahault, director of the Global Health Institute at the University of Geneva, told AFP that each new infection increased the chance that the virus would mutate.
He said that “a soup” of more than 500 new subvariants of Omicron had been identified in recent months, although it had often been difficult to tell where each had first emerged.
“Any variant, when it is more transmissible than previous dominants such as BQ.1, B2.75.2, XBB, CH.1 or BF.7, certainly poses threats as they can lead to new waves,” he said.

“However, none of these known variants appear to present any particular new risk of more severe symptoms that we know of, although this could happen with new variants in the coming future.”

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