Concern grows worldwide over COVID wave in China

The United States has joined a growing number of countries that have decided to impose controls on passengers arriving from China, after the lifting of its health restrictions, but a European agency nevertheless considered that screening in the EU would be “ unjustified ».

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Three years after the appearance of the very first cases of coronavirus in Wuhan (center), China put an end without notice on December 7 to its draconian policy known as “zero Covid”.

Since 2020, it has enabled the population to be largely protected from COVID-19, thanks to generalized screening tests, strict monitoring of movements but also mandatory confinements and quarantines as soon as cases are discovered.

These draconian measures, which kept the country largely isolated from the rest of the planet, dealt a severe blow to the world’s second largest economy and provoked unusual manifestations of discontent in November.

Since the lifting of restrictions, Chinese hospitals have been overwhelmed by a surge of patients, most of them elderly, and vulnerable because they have been little or not vaccinated.

Despite the epidemic rebound, the authorities will end the mandatory quarantines on arrival in China on January 8, and allow the Chinese to travel abroad again, after three years of frustration.

As a precaution, the United States and several countries, including Italy and Japan, have announced that they will require negative tests from passengers arriving from China.

For the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), the introduction of mandatory screening for COVID-19 within the European Union for travelers arriving from China would however be “unjustified”.

EU countries « have relatively high levels of immunization and vaccination » and « variants circulating in China are already circulating in the EU », the ECDC said in a statement, explaining that such a measure does not is not necessary at the level of the European Union as a whole.

Without explicitly naming a country, Beijing called on Thursday to favor “scientific” measures that do not hinder human exchanges.

« Made to Dirty »

China has kept its borders largely closed to foreign nationals since 2020.

The country has not issued tourist visas for almost three years and imposes a mandatory quarantine on arrival. This isolation measure will be lifted on January 8, but a screening test of less than 48 hours will still be required.

In France, President Emmanuel Macron has « requested appropriate measures to protect » the French from the government.

In Brussels, an informal meeting convened by the European Commission, aiming at a “coordinated approach” of the Member States, has not given rise at this stage to a decision being taken one way or another.

At Beijing Capital International Airport, most Chinese interviewed by AFP on Thursday were sympathetic to the measures taken vis-à-vis China.

“Each nation has its own concerns and its own way of protecting itself,” said Huang Hongxu, 21, stressing that the possible spread of new variants was a cause for concern.

“These measures targeting passengers from China are temporary” and justified by “concern” around the reopening of China, notes Wu Jing, a Beijinger.

« Discriminatory »

A traveler for his part described these measures as « useless » to AFP.

« It’s a bit discriminatory, » said Hu, who declined to give his full name.

In China, “our Covid policy for international arrivals is applied (in the same way for everyone)”, notes the young man of 22 years. “Why do other countries have to give special treatment to arrivals from China?” he asks.

On the epidemic front in China, hospitals are battling an upsurge in cases that is hitting the elderly the hardest.

In Shanghai, AFP journalists saw masked patients being transported on stretchers to a major hospital in the city on Thursday. In the establishment, a patient complained of having waited four hours to obtain medication.

In Tianjin (north), near Beijing, AFP saw two hospitals overwhelmed with Covid patients. Doctors must work tirelessly even if they are contaminated, said one of them.

Despite the context, only 5,000 new cases and one death were announced Thursday by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Figures that no longer seem to reflect reality, widespread screenings are no longer mandatory.


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