BEIJING (AP) – Moves by several countries to require passengers arriving from China to be tested for COVID-19 reflect global concern that new variants could emerge in its ongoing explosive outbreak, and that the government may not report the rest of the world quickly enough.
No new variants have been reported so far, but China has been accused of not being open about the virus since it first appeared in the country in late 2019. The concern is that it may not share data now on any signs of evolution strains that could lead to new outbreaks elsewhere.
The United States, Japan, India, South Korea, Taiwan and Italy have all announced testing requirements for passengers from China. The United States cited both the rise 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 situation of the pandemic in China is not transparent,” Wang Pi-Sheng, head of Taiwan’s epidemic command center, told The Associated Press. “We have very limited knowledge of their information and it is not very accurate.”
The island will begin testing all arrivals from China on January 1, ahead of the expected return of some 30,000 Taiwanese for the Lunar New Year holiday at the end of the month. New Japanese rules, which restrict flights from mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau to designated airports starting Friday, are already disrupting holiday travel plans.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin noted Thursday that many countries have not changed their policies for travelers from China and said any measures should treat people from all countries equally.
Each new infection brings the possibility that the coronavirus is mutating and spreading rapidly in China. Scientists can’t say if this means the surge will release a new mutant into the world, but they are worried that it will happen.
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 set up to identify any new versions of the virus of potential concern. Wu Zunyou, the chief epidemiologist at China’s Center for Disease Control, said Thursday that China has always reported the virus strains it has found in a timely manner.
“We don’t keep anything secret,” he said. “All work is shared with the world.”
German Health Ministry spokesman Sebastian Guelde said authorities “have no indication that a more dangerous variant has developed in this outbreak in China” but are monitoring the situation. The European Union is also assessing the situation, although its executive branch noted that a variant prevalent in China is already active in Europe.
More broadly, World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has said the body needs more information on the severity of the outbreak in China, particularly on hospital and ICU admissions. “in order to make a comprehensive assessment of the risk of the situation on the ground. .”
China lifted many of its tough pandemic restrictions earlier this month, allowing the virus to spread rapidly in a country that had seen relatively few infections since a devastating first outbreak in the city of Wuhan. Spiraling infections have led to shortages of cold medicine, long lines at fever clinics and capacity emergency rooms turning away patients. Cremations have increased several times, with a request from one city’s overburdened funeral homes for families to postpone funeral services until next month.
Chinese state media have not widely reported the consequences of the surge, and government officials have blamed Western media for threatening the situation.
Global concerns, tinged with anger, are a direct result of the ruling Communist Party’s sudden departure from some of the world’s strictest anti-virus policies, said Miles Yu, director of the Hudson Institute’s China Center. , a conservative Washington think tank.
“You can’t carry out the insanity of ‘zero-COVID’ lockdowns for such a long period of time… and suddenly release a multitude of infected from a caged China into 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 may be more about increasing pressure on China to share more information than preventing a new variant from entering the country .
China has been accused before of masking the virus situation in the country. An AP investigation found that the government sat on the release of genetic information about the virus for more than a week after decoding it, frustrating WHO officials.
The government also tightly controlled the dissemination of Chinese research on the virus, preventing cooperation with international scientists.
Research into the origins of the virus has also been hampered. A group of WHO experts said in a report this year that “key data” about 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.
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