February 3, 2023

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US to require negative COVID tests for travellers from China

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Restrictions come in response to surge of infections across China after Beijing lifted strict policies to contain the virus.

The United States will require negative COVID-19 tests for travellers from China, US health officials have said, after Beijing’s decision to lift stringent restrictions to contain the virus.

The officials said on Wednesday that the new policy, which will kick in on January 5, will apply to all air passengers over two years old from China, Hong Kong or Macao.

Tests must be taken “no more than two days before their departure”, a health official said. Travellers who test positive more than 10 days before a flight can provide documentation of recovery in place of a negative test result.

On Monday, Beijing said it would scrap mandatory COVID quarantines for overseas arrivals from January 8, prompting many in China to rush to plan trips abroad.

China has experienced a recent surge of COVID-19 cases after it rolled back its strict anti-virus controls. The so-called “zero COVID” policies, which included lockdowns and extensive testing, had curbed the spread of the virus but also led to public frustration and hampered economic growth.

Beijing has faced international criticism over alleged inconsistencies in its official COVID data reporting.

“We have just limited information in terms of what’s being shared related to [the] number of cases that are increasing, hospitalisations and especially deaths. Also, there’s been a decrease in testing across China so it also makes it difficult to know what the true infection rate is,” a US health official told reporters on Wednesday.

Earlier this week, a US official also warned that the lack of genomic data from China makes it “increasingly difficult for public health officials to ensure that they will be able to identify any potential new variants and take prompt measures to reduce the spread”.

India, Italy, Japan, Malaysia and Taiwan have also imposed pandemic-related travel restrictions on passengers from China.

The United Kingdom is considering new measures, including testing arrivals from China, the Telegraph newspaper reported on Thursday.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said his country had not changed its travel rules but his government would take into account “appropriate advice from the health experts”.

Beijing has stressed that the COVID situation in the country remains “under control” as it adapts to the new policies.

Al Jazeera’s White House correspondent Kimberly Halkett said while Beijing is dismissing fear of the COVID outbreak in the country as “hype”, the US government is mostly concerned about what it calls lack of transparency from China.

“It’s very alarming for authorities here in the United States who are seeing kind of a worsening of the COVID outbreaks in China and not getting the data that they are really looking for,” she said.

The US lifted testing requirements for all passengers in June after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determined they were no longer necessary. The US still requires tourists and visitors to show proof of COVID vaccination before entering the country.

Beijing has emerged as Washington’s top geopolitical competitor but the two countries have deep economic relations and trade partnerships.

Last week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US would like China to “get this outbreak under control” to minimise suffering, limit the international spread of the virus and prevent disruptions to the global economy.

“We’re prepared to continue to support people around the world, including in China, with this and with other COVID-related health support,” Blinken said.

“China has not asked to date for that help, but, again, we’re fully prepared to provide assistance to anyone who asks for it if they think it’s useful.”

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