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BEIJING: Moves by the United States, Japan and others to mandate COVID-19 tests for passengers arriving from China reflect global concerns that new variants could emerge in its ongoing explosive outbreak, and the government may not inform the rest of the world fast enough.
There have been no reports of new variants to date. But given the country’s track record, the concern is that China is not sharing data on any signs of evolving strains that could lead to new outbreaks elsewhere.
The United States, in announcing a negative test requirement for passengers from China on Wednesday, cited both the rise in infections and what it said was a lack of information, including genomic sequencing of virus strains in the country.
Wang Pi-Sheng, head of Taiwan’s epidemic command center, said on Thursday that uncertainty about the situation in China worries his government. Authorities 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.
“Right now the pandemic situation in China is not transparent,” he said. “We have a very limited understanding of their information and it’s not very accurate.”
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida expressed similar concerns about the lack of information when he announced a testing requirement for passengers arriving from China earlier this week.
More broadly, the World Health Organization needs more information on the severity of the outbreak in China, particularly hospital and ICU admissions, “to make a comprehensive risk assessment of the situation on the ground,” the director-general said of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. he said last week.
India, South Korea, Taiwan and Italy have also announced various testing requirements for passengers from China. German health authorities are monitoring the situation but have not taken similar preventive measures.
“We have no indication that a more dangerous variant developed in this outbreak in China that would be grounds for declaring a virus variant zone, which would bring the corresponding travel restrictions,” said Health Ministry spokesman Sebastian Guelde.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said last week that China has always shared its information responsibly with the WHO.
“We are ready to work with the international community in solidarity to face the challenge of COVID-19 more effectively, better protect people’s lives and health, and jointly restore steady economic growth and build a global community of health for all,” he said. .
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 in early 2020.
The global concerns, tinged with anger, are a direct result of the ruling Communist Party’s sudden departure from its hardline policies, said Miles Yu, director of the China Center at the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington, DC.
“You cannot carry out the insanity of ‘zero-COVID’ lockdowns for such a long period of time … and suddenly release the infected multitudes of a caged China into the world,” risking major outbreaks elsewhere places, Yu said. in an email.
In China, spiraling infections have led to shortages of cold medicine, long lines at fever clinics and emergency rooms at capacity to turn away patients. Cremations have increased several times, with a request from overburdened funeral homes in the southern city of Guangzhou for families to postpone funeral services until next month.
Chinese state media did not report on this and blamed Western media for exaggerating the situation.
“This kind of rhetoric is driven by bias, aimed at defaming China and politically motivated,” Wang Wenbin, another spokesman for the foreign ministry, said on Wednesday.
The government has been accused of controlling information about the outbreak since the start of the pandemic.
An AP investigation showed that China was controlling the release of its internal research into the origins of COVID-19 in 2020. A group of WHO experts said in a report this year that “key data” about how the pandemic began was still missing and asked a deeper investigation.


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