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Inbound travelers waiting to board buses to leave for quarantine hotels and facilities from Guangzhou Baiyun Airport in China on 25 December. AP/PA Images

US to require negative Covid tests for travelers from China after country's sudden Covid pivot

The United States says China is not sharing enough information about the surge in coronavirus cases there.

LAST UPDATE | 28 Dec 2022

THE UNITED STATES will require negative Covid tests from all air travelers from China, saying Beijing is not sharing enough information about the surge in coronavirus cases there.

From 5 January, “all air passengers two years and older originating from China will be required to get a test no more than two days before their departure from China, Hong Kong and Macau, and show a negative test result to the airlines upon departure,” a federal health official said.

However, the official said, Beijing has provided only limited data about circulating variants in China to global databases, and testing and reporting on new cases has also diminished.

“Based on this lack of available data, it’s harder for US public health officials to identify new variants spreading to the United States,” the official said.

“The United States is taking deliberative proactive steps to protect Americans’ public health, and be on alert for any potential Covid-19 variants emerging,” the official said.

The new requirement will fall into place just after midnight US Eastern Time on 5 January, or 05:00 Irish time.

The test requirement applies to air passengers regardless of nationality and vaccination status, and includes people traveling to the United States from China via third countries, as well as those traveling through the United States to other countries.

China’s sudden pivot away from containing Covid-19 has caused jitters around the world.

The country has scrapped quarantine for inbound travellers from 8 January onwards, dismantling the last remaining piece of its stringent zero-Covid policy and ending some of the world’s harshest border restrictions.

The move was greeted with jubilation by Chinese citizens, who rushed to book international flights, triggering a surge in ticket prices.

But other countries have expressed concerns about the potential for new variants as China battles the world’s biggest surge in infections.

Restrictions on Chinese visitors

Italy is also making coronavirus tests for visitors from China mandatory following an explosion in cases in China.

“I have ordered mandatory Covid-19 antigenic swabs, and related virus sequencing, for all passengers coming from China and transiting through Italy,” minister Orazio Schillaci said.

The measure was “essential to ensure the surveillance and identification of any variants of the virus in order to protect the Italian population”, he said.

The Italian northern region of Lombardy introduced screening yesterday, a day before the measure was brought in nationwide.

Lombardy, the first region to impose a lockdown when coronavirus hit Europe in early 2020, is testing arrivals from China at Milan’s Malpensa airport at least until 30 January, the foreign ministry said.

Swabs collected at Malpensa in recent days are already being analysed by the national health ministry, to help identify any new variants.

Taiwan, a self-ruled island that China claims as its own, said today that it too would screen travellers from the mainland for the virus.

The mayor of Belgian tourist hub Bruges also called for Chinese visitors to face Covid tests or mandatory vaccine requirements. 

Bruges mayor Dirk De fauw said he was alarmed at the prospect of an influx of tourists from China to the city – which used to welcome up to 150,000 visitors from the country each year before the pandemic.

“The infection rate is still very high. I think we have to work either with a vaccination certificate or with tests,” he said.

He called for a solution to be found “at European level”, insisting there was time to prepare before large numbers of Chinese tourists come back to Belgium.

“Usually, these are organised group trips and they will only resume in April or May. So we have time to work on possible restrictions,” he said.


China’s loosening of measures effectively brought the curtain down on a zero-Covid regime of mass testing, lockdowns and long quarantines that has roiled supply chains and buffeted business engagement with the world’s second-largest economy.

Hospitals and crematoriums across China have been overwhelmed with undervaccinated elderly patients, while residents report widespread shortages of fever medicine as the virus spreads largely unchecked among the population of 1.4 billion.

Asked about Japan’s entry restrictions, Beijing’s foreign ministry said yesterday that countries should uphold “scientific and appropriate” disease controls that “should not affect normal personnel exchanges”.

All passengers arriving in China have had to undergo mandatory centralised quarantine since March 2020. The period of isolation fell from three weeks to one week in June, and to five days last month.

The end of that rule in January will also see Covid-19 downgraded to a Class B infectious disease, allowing authorities to adopt looser controls.

Yesterday, Chinese immigration authorities announced the gradual resumption from 8 January of passport issuance for “tourism” or “overseas visits of friends”.

Tracking cases

The winter surge comes ahead of major public holidays next month in which hundreds of millions of people are expected to travel to their hometowns to reunite with relatives.

Chinese authorities have admitted the scale of the outbreak is now “impossible” to track and narrowed the criteria for defining Covid deaths.

China’s Center for Disease Prevention and Control reported 5,231 new Covid cases and three deaths nationwide today – likely a drastic undercount since people are no longer required to declare infections to authorities.

Authorities are using data from online surveys, hospital visits, demand for fever medicines and emergency calls to “make up for shortcomings in (officially) reported figures”, disease control official Yin Wenwu said at a press briefing yesterday.

And as the country faces shortages of basic medicines, Beijing city authorities plan to distribute the oral Covid drug Paxlovid at local hospitals and community clinics, but it remains extremely difficult to obtain for ordinary people.

The US-developed treatment was briefly available on e-commerce platform and delivery platform Meituan in the past few days before both ran out of stock.

© AFP 2022

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