How COVID and travel are changing for China

Several countries are putting up new requirements for arrivals coming from China.

How COVID and travel are changing for China
Travelers walk with their luggage at Beijing Capital International Airport, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Beijing, China December 27, 2022. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang

The backstory: China recently pivoted away from its yearslong zero-COVID stance. Now, a huge COVID outbreak is hitting just as the government is easing restrictions. Hospitals and funeral homes have seen a surge as the virus is spreading. But, officials announced that starting January 8, residents will be allowed to travel freely outside of the country again.

More recently: The global community has expressed worry about China’s transparency during this new outbreak. Many are also concerned about the possibility of a new COVID variant coming out of it. But Chinese health officials say that the outbreak is driven by existing versions of omicron, and a surveillance system for identifying any new versions of the virus has been set up.

The development: Now, several countries are putting up new requirements for arrivals coming from China. Italy, Japan, India and Taiwan have all announced mandatory COVID testing for Chinese travelers. The US joined the ranks on Wednesday, announcing tests for arrivals from China, Hong Kong and Macau. On the other hand, the UK has said it’s not adding any new restrictions, and Australia is holding off to monitor the situation. China’s foreign ministry responded to these new restrictions by saying that new policies should be based in “science” and treat people from all countries the same. The chief epidemiologist of China’s CDC said on Thursday that the country has always been forthcoming about its COVID situation.

Key comments:

“Right now the pandemic situation in China is not transparent,” Wang Pi-Sheng, the head of Taiwan’s epidemic command center, told The Associated Press. “We have a very limited grasp on its information, and it’s not very accurate.”

“We keep nothing secret,” said Wu Zunyou, the chief epidemiologist at China’s CDC, on Thursday. “All work is shared with the world.”

"While there is information that the infection is spreading rapidly in mainland China, concern has been growing in Japan as it is difficult to grasp the detailed situation," said Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, on China's transparency regarding new COVID data.

“China believes all countries’ responses to COVID-19 should be scientific and fair,” ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a press conference in Beijing. “The current measures prevent normal exchanges among people and we hope all countries will base their decisions on science and will ensure a stable global supply chain and economic recovery.”

“CDC is announcing today that it will implement a requirement for a negative COVID-19 test or documentation of recovery for air passengers boarding flights to the United States originating from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau,” said a statement from the US CDC. “CDC is announcing this step to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the United States during the surge in COVID-19 cases in the PRC given the lack of adequate and transparent epidemiological and viral genomic sequence data being reported from the PRC.”