Women's Health

China Covid: US testing rule meets collective shrug


Some Chinese have been disappointed by the Biden administration’s new testing requirement for travelers from their country. Others expressed contempt, calling it the latest Western effort to contain China’s rise. But many were simply indifferent.

For many Chinese, the US rule that they must show negative Covid tests to visit is a tangential development. China is grappling with severe outbreaks that have sickened countless people and overwhelmed hospitals and funeral homes. Many are focused on trying to keep their jobs and their homes as the economy collapses.

And for many who plan to travel, an additional Covid test is not a major inconvenience. These tests were until recently – for tens of millions of citizens – an almost daily routine imposed by the authorities. And Chinese tourists know they are welcome in many places across Asia and beyond.

“It’s just a Covid test before traveling,” said Li Kuan, 33, a software engineer at a tech start-up in southern China’s Guangzhou city. “We’ve done a bunch of tests like this over the last three years.”

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rule, announced on Wednesday, will require anyone, regardless of nationality or vaccination status, to test negative if they want to board a US-bound flight from China. It will apply to travelers to Hong Kong and Macao, as well as anyone coming from China who is transiting through or entering the United States through a third country.

The rule will come into effect on Jan. 5, three days before China plans to drop strict quarantine requirements that have been in place for inbound travelers for nearly three years.

People around the world are excited about the potential boon to business and tourism that would come with an increase in Chinese tourist numbers. But some are also worried about the way cases have soared in the country since early December, when China abruptly lifted its “zero Covid” policy after mass protests against lockdowns that threatened the ruling Communist Party.

US authorities fear the coronavirus is spreading rapidly in China, allowing new variants to develop and spread around the world.

On Wednesday, the CDC said it was requiring a negative Covid test for travelers from China to slow the spread of the virus in the United States. As new variants of the virus emerge around the world, China’s “reduced” testing and reporting of cases and “minimal” sharing of epidemiological data could delay their identification, the agency said.

Italy and Japan recently imposed similar travel restrictions, and India now requires negative Covid test results and random screening at airports for passengers arriving from China, including Hong Kong, as well as Japan. , South Korea and Thailand.

On Thursday in China, the main Communist Party propaganda outlets, usually quick to criticize countries that impose restrictions on Chinese travelers, appeared to play down the US news. The CDC rule itself was barely mentioned on many major party platforms.

Some sites instead pointed to the positive reception China’s easing has received in other countries. “China’s new measures ‘boost global economic hope,'” reads the headline of an article in the Global Times, the Communist Party newspaper.

Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing, said Chinese state media might be wary of saying too much about the US restriction lest it draw attention to domestic outbreaks in China and does not fuel public anger.

“If you talk about it too much, you’re bound to make mistakes,” he said.

For Beijing, it might be difficult to argue that the United States should not impose a testing requirement, when China itself is still considering maintaining one, even after relaxing the rules. The government will require incoming travelers to show a negative polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, test within 48 hours of departure.

At a routine press briefing in Beijing on Thursday, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin did not directly address the Biden administration’s decision. He repeated talking points Beijing used last week as some countries began imposing limits on Chinese travellers, saying such pandemic measures should be “scientific and appropriate”.

But this time he made a pointed reference to the issue of discrimination, saying such measures should also “treat citizens of all countries equally”.

Some Chinese citizens have ignored the US testing requirement, calling it a minor inconvenience for a population that has grown accustomed to near-constant PCR testing throughout the pandemic.

China’s Covid-era testing requirements for international travelers have been “much more complicated” than what the United States now requires of travelers from the country, said Wang Xiaofei, 29, who works for a company technology in the southern megacity of Shenzhen.

“It is what it is,” she said of the testing policy, adding that she would still travel to the United States if given the chance. “You just have to cooperate.

Others were less accommodating.

New York University student Iris Su, 22, said her parents, who live in the eastern city of Qingdao, thought of visiting her after the week-long Lunar New Year holiday in late January. “Now they’re not so sure anymore,” she said. “They are a little unhappy with the American restrictions.”

Ms. Su said she viewed the CDC rule as a political decision, not a scientific one. “At the end of the day, this is all about great power confrontation,” she added.

Several epidemiologists said on Thursday that the new US policy would be ineffective, based on evidence from other places – including Hong Kong, a Chinese territory, where a series of testing requirements for inbound travelers earlier this year failed to prevent a sharp rise the number of imported cases.

Karen Grépin, an expert in global health policy at the University of Hong Kong, said that while the CDC’s new rule may prevent superspreading conditions on planes, it would not prevent new variants – just like previous foreign travel bans have done little to stop the spread. of the Omicron variant.

“What we should really be doing now as a global community is thinking about how to support the Chinese people through this transition, not shut them down,” she said.

It was unclear on Thursday how or if the new CDC rule would affect China’s delicate relationship with the United States. When President Biden and Xi Jinping, the powerful Chinese leader, met in Indonesia last month, they seemed eager to soft reset a relationship that was heading towards confrontation. Yet the relationship remains stuck at its lowest point in years amid disagreements over Taiwan’s future, technological restrictions and China’s mass detentions of its citizens, among other issues.

Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, described the CDC rule as “epidemiologically unconvincing and diplomatically unwarranted.”

“Global reopening should be encouraged,” he said, referring to China’s plan to gradually dismantle its Covid testing infrastructure and travel restrictions. “Now you are giving the Chinese the impression that you are punishing them.”

Mr Huang said he sympathized with international criticism of China’s perceived reluctance to share coronavirus data with other countries. But he also worries that the CDC’s demand could be fodder for Chinese nationalists who argue that the United States is trying to contain China’s rise.

It was the tone Thursday on some pages of the Global Times.

“The Covid outbreak this time signals to China that it must recognize a fundamental fact,” Shen Yi, a professor of international politics at Fudan University in Shanghai, wrote in a column.

“That is to say, China’s words, deeds and various policies will be examined under an electron microscope by American and Western public opinion and anti-China politicians,” he wrote. “If there is a slight defect, it will be magnified infinitely; if a flaw cannot be found, they will create it artificially.


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