Global alarm grows over China's COVID surge
December 29, 2022 - Thursday 4:12 PM by Agence France PresseA passenger wearing protective gear is seen at a train station in Beijing on December 28. Noel CELIS/AFP
The United States has joined a growing number of countries in imposing restrictions on visitors from China after Beijing announced it would remove curbs on overseas travel as Covid cases surge at home.
Hospitals across China have been overwhelmed by an explosion of infections following Beijing's decision to lift strict rules that had largely kept the virus at bay but tanked the economy and sparked widespread protests.
This week the country said it would end mandatory quarantine on arrival -- prompting many jubilant people in China to make plans to travel abroad.
In response, the United States and a number of other countries announced they would require negative Covid tests for all travelers from mainland China.
"The recent rapid increase in Covid-19 transmission in China increases the potential for new variants emerging," a senior US health official told reporters in a phone briefing.
Beijing has provided only limited data to global databases about circulating variants in China, the official said, and its testing and reporting on new cases have diminished.
The US move came after Italy, Japan, India and Malaysia announced their own measures in a bid to avoid importing new variants from China.
Beijing has hit out against "hyping, smearing and political manipulation" by the Western media concerning its Covid response.
"Currently China's epidemic situation is all predictable and under control," foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a briefing Wednesday.
China still does not allow foreign visitors, however, with the issuance of visas for overseas tourists and students suspended.
Visitors to China must also provide a negative PCR test taken no more than 48 hours before entering the country.
The lifting of mandatory quarantine sparked a surge in interest in overseas travel by Chinese citizens, who have been largely confined to their country since Beijing pulled up the drawbridge in March 2020.
But Italy on Wednesday also said it would make coronavirus tests for all visitors from China mandatory.
France's president said he had "requested appropriate measures to protect" citizens and Paris was closely monitoring "the evolution of the situation in China".
The European Commission is set to meet Thursday to discuss "possible measures for a coordinated approach" by EU states to China's explosion of Covid cases.
Chinese citizens on Thursday mostly reacted with understanding towards the measures at Beijing's Capital International Airport, where most people AFP spoke to were domestic travelers.
"It's good to see our borders opening," said a passenger bound for the Hungarian capital of Budapest.
"Every country has their own policies. We just follow them and still go where we need to go."
"Each nation has its own worries about protecting itself," 21-year-old Huang Hongxu told AFP, adding that the potential spread of virus variants around the world was a cause for concern.
But a man surnamed Hu, 22, told AFP he thought the rules were "unnecessary".
"It's a bit discriminatory," he said. "Our Covid policy for international arrivals is applied equally.
"Why do other countries need to give arrivals from China special treatment?"
Bodies piling up
On the front lines of China's Covid wave, hospitals are battling surging cases that have hit the elderly and vulnerable hardest.
In Tianjin, around 140 kilometers (90 miles) southeast of the capital Beijing, AFP visited two hospitals overwhelmed with patients.
Doctors are being asked to work even if they are infected, one said.
AFP saw more than two dozen mostly elderly patients lying on gurneys in public areas of the emergency department, and at least one dead person being wheeled out of a ward.
"It's a four-hour wait to see a doctor," staff could be heard telling an elderly man who said he had Covid.
"There are 300 people in front of you."
China's National Health Commission last week said it would no longer release an official daily Covid death toll.
A national disease control body has been keeping a tally, adding just over 5,000 new local cases and one death on Thursday.
But with the end of mass testing -- and China's decision to reclassify Covid deaths in a move analysts said would dramatically play down the fatalities -- those numbers are no longer believed to reflect reality.
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