China’s COVID outbreak, lack of information sparks global concern
Steps taken by several countries to make COVID-19 testing mandatory for passengers arriving from China reflect global concern that new variants could emerge in its ongoing explosive outbreak – and that the government may not inform the rest of the world fast enough.
There have been no reports of new variants to date, but China has been accused of not being open about the virus since it first emerged in the country in late 2019. The concern is that it may not share be no data now on the signs of evolution. strains that could trigger new outbreaks elsewhere.
The United States, Japan, India, South Korea, Taiwan and Italy have announced testing requirements for passengers arriving from China. The United States cited both the spike in infections and what it said was a lack of information, including genomic sequencing of virus strains in the country.
Authorities in Taiwan and Japan have expressed similar concerns.
« Right now, the pandemic situation in China is not transparent, » Wang Pi-Sheng, head of Taiwan’s epidemic command center, told The Associated Press. « We have a very limited understanding of his information, and it’s not very accurate. »
The island will begin testing all people arriving from China on January 1, ahead of the expected return of around 30,000 Taiwanese for the Lunar New Year holiday later in the month. Japan’s new rules, which restrict flights from mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau to designated airports from Friday, are already disrupting holiday travel plans.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin noted on Thursday that many countries had not changed their policies regarding travelers from China and said any measures should treat people from all countries of the same way.
Each new infection offers a chance for the coronavirus to mutate, and it is spreading rapidly in China. Scientists can’t say if this means the surge will unleash a new mutant on the world – but they fear it might.
Chinese health officials have said the current outbreak is caused by versions of the omicron variant that have also been detected elsewhere, and a surveillance system has been put in place to identify any potentially worrying new versions of the virus. Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist with the Chinese Center for Disease Control, said Thursday that China has always reported virus strains it finds in a timely manner.
« We don’t keep anything a secret, » he said. « All work is shared with the world. »
German health ministry spokesman Sebastian Guelde said authorities there had « no indication that a more dangerous variant has developed during this outbreak in China », but are monitoring the situation. The European Union is also assessing the situation, although its executive branch has noted that a variant prevalent in China is already active in Europe.
More broadly, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the body needed more information on the severity of the outbreak in China, particularly on hospital admissions. hospital and intensive care, « in order to carry out a full risk assessment of the situation on the ground ». . »
China rolled back many of its strict pandemic restrictions earlier this month, allowing the virus to spread rapidly in a country that had seen relatively few infections since an initial devastating outbreak in the city of Wuhan. The spiral of infections has led to shortages of cold medicine, long queues at fever clinics and full capacity emergency rooms turning away patients. Cremations have increased severalfold, with a request from overcrowded funeral homes in one city for families to postpone funeral services until next month.
Chinese state media has not widely reported the fallout from the outbreak, and government officials have accused Western media of exaggerating the situation.
Global concerns, tinged with anger, are a direct result of the ruling Communist Party’s sudden exit from some of the world’s toughest anti-virus policies, said Miles Yu, director of the China Center at the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington.
« You can’t carry out the madness of ‘zero-COVID’ lockdowns for such a long time ΓÇª and then suddenly release multitudes of infected people from a caged China to the world, » risking major outbreaks elsewhere, Yu said. in an email.
Dr David Dowdy, an infectious disease expert at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said the US move could be more about mounting pressure on China to share more information than preventing it. a new variant of entering the country.
China has previously been accused of covering up the virus situation in the country. An AP investigation found the government sat on releasing genetic information about the virus for more than a week after decoding it, frustrating WHO officials.
The government has also tightly controlled the dissemination of Chinese research on the virus, hampering cooperation with international scientists.
Research into the origins of the virus has also been blocked. A WHO expert group said in a report this year that « key data » on how the pandemic started was missing and called for further investigation.
Wu reported from Taipei, Taiwan. Associated Press reporters Geir Moulson in Berlin, Carla K. Johnson in Seattle and Kanis Leung in Hong Kong and video producer Liu Zheng in Beijing contributed.