(CNSNews.com) – Three years after the novel coronavirus, first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan, began racing across the globe, governments are grappling with how to deal with another surge of cases in that country, believed to be omicron subvariants.
This follows Beijing’s decision to jettison its “zero-COVID” policies and lift exit restrictions on citizens.
Skepticism about the accuracy of data and the notoriously opaque operating practices of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) have many governments worried about the scale and severity of the situation in China.
As of Thursday this week, authorities in countries including France, Australia, and Canada will begin screening plane passengers from China for COVID-19. Similar measures were announced earlier in the United States, Italy, Britain, Japan, Spain, India, South Korea, and elsewhere.
In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control announcement regarding negative test requirements for incoming passengers from China, including Hong Kong and Macau, was issued last Tuesday, but also only comes into effect on Thursday this week.
Requirements vary across countries, but include measures that became familiar around the world during the pandemic – among them proof of vaccination status, proof of a negative PCR or antigen test taken within two days of arrival, and in some cases, mandatory mask wearing during flights.
After Italy last week made COVID-19 tests mandatory for passengers arriving from China, nearly half of those disembarking in Milan tested positive for the virus.
Alarm generated by that finding was eased somewhat when Italy’s health minister reported to lawmakers that the variants of the disease affecting the arriving passengers were those already in circulation in Europe, rather than a new strain from China.
Still, given the unrestricted and visa-free travel inside the European Union, Italy, France and others are pushing for an E.U.-wide policy, to prevent passengers from China landing at airports where no precautions are in place, and then carrying the disease across the bloc’s unguarded internal borders.
Some E.U. member-states are resistant, however, and representatives will meet again on Wednesday “to discuss the coordination of possible requirements for entry,” according to the government of Sweden, which holds the E.U.’s rotating presidency.
“The lifting of exit restrictions from China, combined with the increasing spread of COVID-19 in the country, has prompted the need for joint European action,” it said.
Swedish Health Minister Jakob Forssmed said Sweden was seeking a common E.U. approach, believing it to be “important that we get the necessary measures in place quickly.”
Reacting to new requirements being put in place in many countries Hu Xijin, a CCP propagandist and former editor-in-chief of the party organ Global Times, tweeted on Monday, “China has lifted lockdowns, but some countries have in turn restricted travelers from China.”
“This world is really chaotic,” Hu commented. “There will always be some extra measures to appease the panic. Useless things are done seriously.”
The “zero-COVID” strategy championed by President Xi Jinping involved mandatory testing and harshly-enforced, sometimes lengthy lockdowns affecting hundreds of millions of people.
Beijing abruptly ended the approach after street protests spread to several major cities following a deadly apartment block fire in November in the Xinjiang region. The unrest was sparked by claims circulating online that strict pandemic restrictions had slowed down the emergency response.
At the time of the protests, China had reported a little over 5,200 COVID-19 deaths over the entire pandemic, striking low in a country of 1.4 billion people. That’s fewer COVID-19 deaths than in Finland, whose population is 254 times smaller than China’s.
The World Health Organization has been urging China to share “specific and real-time data on the epidemiological situation,” including deaths.
In a COVID-19 “facts and figures” document, published by China’s mission to the E.U. on New Year’s Day, China does not provide an actual number of deaths attributed to the virus.
It does say that China’s COVID-19 deaths “are only equivalent to 0.08% of worldwide COVID-19 death toll” of 6.65 million. That would make China’s death toll about 5,320.
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