Saturday, January 28, 2023

China resumes international travel: Which countries are introducing new COVID restrictions?

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Countries are imposing new COVID-19 measures on travellers coming from China as international travel resumes.

So far Japan, India, Italy, Malaysia, South Korea, Spain, Taiwan and the USA have announced stepped up rules on travellers from China in response to rising cases. 

Japan says it will require a negative COVID-19 test upon arrival for travellers from China, with those testing positive having to undergo a week in quarantine. Tokyo also plans to limit airlines increasing flights to China.

Malaysia put in place additional tracking and surveillance measures. The Philippines is also considering imposing tests. 

On Friday, South Korea announced that from 2 January, on-arrival PCR tests will be introduced for people coming from China. From 5 January, the country will additionally require a negative test result within 48 hours or a rapid antigen test taken within 24 hours before departure. Restrictions are also being placed on short-term visas for Chinese nationals.

US government officials are ramping up controls, too, citing concerns about the “lack of transparent data” coming from Beijing. Beginning on 5 January, all air passengers two years old and older will require a negative result from a test no more than two days before departure from China, Hong Kong or Macao.

In the EU, Italy has ordered COVID-19 antigen swabs and virus sequencing for all travellers coming from China, the health minister said on Wednesday.

The Belgian mayor has also called for COVID checks to be reintroduced on tourists entering from China, while France says it is unnecessary to increase border controls. An EU wide decision was expected on Thursday, however an agreement is yet to be reached.

On Friday, Spain became the second European country to announce COVID restrictions on travellers from China, who will now need to provide a negative test result or proof of vaccination.

The UK, however, has no plans to bring back COVID-19 testing for those coming into the country, a government spokesperson said on Thursday. Australia, too, is making no change to its rules around allowing travellers from China into the country

Why are countries concerned about travellers incoming from China?

Over the past few weeks, China has rapidly been loosening its strict COVID rules amid citizen unrest. The abrupt policy change has reportedly left its health system overwhelmed as the virus spreads largely unchecked.

China, a country of 1.4 billion people, reported three new COVID-related deaths for Tuesday, up from one for Monday. However, these numbers are inconsistent with what funeral parlours are reporting, as well as with the experience of much less populous countries after they re-opened.

“There are mounting concerns in the international community on the ongoing COVID-19 surges in China and the lack of transparent data, including viral genomic sequence data, being reported from the PRC [People’s Republic of China],” US officials said on Tuesday.

In Italy, Milan’s main airport, Malpensa, had already started testing passengers arriving from Beijing and Shanghai on 26 December, and the results showed almost one in two passengers was infected.

What are the rules for people travelling into China?

China said on Monday it will lift its quarantine requirement for inbound travellers starting from 8 January. It will also resume issuing visas for residents to travel overseas.

This is a major step towards easing curbs on its borders, which have been largely shut since 2020. The rules have gradually been easing in recent weeks to facilitate both domestic and international travel.

Hong Kong also said on Wednesday it will scrap most of its remaining COVID restrictions.

Online searches for flights out of China spiked on Tuesday from extremely low levels, but residents and travel agencies suggested a return to anything like normal would take some months yet, as caution prevails for now.

Numisteamone

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