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China Covid: US testing rules meet a collective shrug


Some Chinese are frustrated by the Biden administration’s new testing requirement for travelers from their country. Others expressed disdain, calling it the latest attempt by the West to contain China’s rise. But many are simply indifferent.

For many Chinese, the US rule that they must present a negative Covid test result to visit is a tangential development. China is grappling with severe outbreaks that have sickened countless people and overwhelmed hospitals and funeral homes. Many are focused on trying to keep their jobs and homes as the economy slows.

And for many people considering traveling, additional Covid testing shouldn’t be a major inconvenience. Such testing was until recently – for tens of millions of citizens – an almost daily routine mandated by the authorities. And Chinese tourists know they are welcome in many places across Asia and beyond.

“It’s just a Covid test before traveling,” said Li Kuan, 33, a software engineer at a tech startup in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou. “We’ve done a bunch of tests like this over the past three years.”

The rule from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, published on Wednesday, will require negative tests from anyone, regardless of nationality or vaccination status, wanting to board an incoming flight. United States in China. It will apply to travelers in Hong Kong and Macau, as well as to anyone arriving from China transiting in the United States or entering through a third country.

The rule will go into effect on January 5, three days before China plans to drop the strict quarantine requirements that have been in place for domestic travelers for nearly three years.

People around the world are excited about the potential business and tourism benefits that will come with an increase in Chinese tourists. But some are also worried about how cases have exploded in the country since early December, when China abruptly lifted its “no Covid” policy after mass protests against it. blockade orders threaten the ruling Communist Party.

Officials in the United States are concerned that the coronavirus will spread rapidly in China, allowing new variants to develop and spread around the world.

On Wednesday, the CDC said it was requiring a negative Covid test for travelers from China to slow the spread of the virus in the United States. As new variants of the virus emerge around the world, China’s “reduced” testing and case reporting and “minimal” sharing of epidemiological data could slow their identification. the agency said.

Italy and Japan have recently imposed similar travel restrictions, while India now requires a negative Covid test result and random screening at airports for passengers arriving from China, including from Hong Kong, as well as from Japan, Korea and Thailand.

On Thursday in China, the main Communist Party propaganda outlets, often quick to criticize countries that impose restrictions on Chinese visitors, appeared to downplay US news. The CDC rule itself is barely mentioned on many of the main party platforms.

Instead, several websites highlight the positive reception China’s easing has received in other countries. “China’s new measures ‘enhance global economic hopes’,” read the headline of an article in the Global Times, the Communist Party newspaper.

Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing, says that China’s official media may be wary of reporting too much about the US restrictions for fear of doing so. That would draw attention to China’s domestic outbreaks and anger the public.

“If you talk about this too much, you’re bound to make mistakes,” he said.

For Beijing, it can be difficult to make an argument that the US should not impose the testing requirement, when China itself still plans to maintain a requirement, even after loosening the rules. The government will require incoming travelers showing a negative polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, test within 48 hours of departure.

At a regular news conference in Beijing on Thursday, Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for the State Department, did not directly address the Biden administration’s move. He reiterated the arguments Beijing used over the past week as some countries began imposing restrictions on Chinese visitors, saying such anti-pandemic measures must be “scientific and appropriate”. “.

But this time, he explicitly addressed the issue of discrimination, saying such measures should also “treat citizens of all nations equally.”

Some Chinese nationals declined the US request for testing, calling it a minor inconvenience to a population accustomed to near-constant PCR testing throughout the pandemic.

Wang Xiaofei, 29, who works for a technology company in the southern megacity of Shenzhen, said China’s Covid-era testing requirements for international travelers were “much more complicated” than with what the United States currently requires of travelers from the country.

“It is what it is,” she said of the testing policy, adding that she would still go to the US if given the chance. “Just cooperate.”

Others are less accommodating.

Iris Su, 22, a college student in New York City, said her parents, who live in the eastern city of Qingdao, thought of visiting her after a week-long Lunar New Year holiday at the end of the month. January. “They’re not so sure now,” she said. “They’re a bit unsatisfied with the US restrictions.”

Ms. Su said she considers the CDC’s regulation a political move, not a scientific one. “Ultimately, this is purely a confrontation between great powers,” she added.

Several epidemiologists said on Thursday that the new US policy would not work, based on evidence from elsewhere – including Hong Kong, a Chinese territory that is home to a range of coronavirus outbreaks. check requirements for travelers arriving earlier this year failed to prevent a sharp rise among imported cases.

Karen Grépin, a global health policy expert at the University of Hong Kong, said that while the CDC’s new rule could prevent super-spreading on planes, it won’t prevent complications. new variant — like previous international travel bans, have done little to prevent the spread of the Omicron variant.

“What we really should be doing now as a global community is to think about how to support the Chinese people through this transition, not stop them,” she said.

On Thursday, it remained unclear how the new CDC rule would affect China’s delicate relationship with the United States. When President Biden and President Xi Jinping, China’s powerful leader, met in Indonesia last month, they appeared eager to re-establish a soft-spoken rapprochement. However, ties remain stuck at a multi-year low amid disagreements over Taiwan’s future, technology restrictions and China’s mass detention of its citizens, among other issues. .

Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, described the CDC’s regulation as “epidemiologically inconclusive and diplomatically absurd”.

“The overall reopening should be encouraged,” he said, referring to China’s plan to gradually dismantle Covid testing infrastructure and travel restrictions. “Now you are giving the Chinese the impression that you are punishing them.”

Mr. Huang said he sympathized with international criticism of China’s reluctance to share coronavirus data with other countries. But he also worries that the CDC’s request could be a bait for Chinese nationalists who think the United States is trying to contain China’s rise.

That was the tone on Thursday on several pages of the Global Times.

Shen Yi, a professor of international politics at Fudan University in Shanghai, wrote in a column: “This outbreak of Covid tells China that it must realize a fundamental reality.

“It is China’s words, actions, and various policies that will face electron-microscopic scrutiny by American and Western public opinion as well as anti-China politicians, ‘ he wrote. “If there is a small mistake, it will be magnified to infinity; if no flaw is found, they will create it artificially.”

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