As Covid-hit China reopens to the world, countries put up travel barriers

SHANGHAI/SINGAPORE: With just days to go before China will lift border controls that have shut it off from the rest of the world for three years, countries are lining up to impose new restrictions. Restrictions on travelers from China to prevent the country’s raging Covid-19 outbreak.
From Sunday, January 8, China will lift quarantine requirements for domestic travelers, the latest move to lift the “Covid-free” regime that began last month following protests. historical sentiment against a series of suffocating mass blockades.
But abrupt changes exposed many of China’s 1.4 billion population to the virus for the first time, triggering a wave of infections that overwhelmed some hospitals, emptied drug shelves and caused international alarm.
Greece, Germany and Sweden on Thursday joined more than a dozen countries to require Chinese travelers to be tested for Covid, as World Health Organization said China’s official virus data has under-reported its true outbreak.
Chinese state media and officials have adopted a defiant tone, defending its handling of the outbreak, downplaying the severity of the increase and denouncing foreign travel requests for with their residents.
“No matter how China decides to deal with the COVID-19 epidemic, some Western media and some Western politicians will never be satisfied,” the state-run Global Times wrote in an editorial late on Thursday.
The airline industry, battered by years of pandemic restrictions, has also criticized decisions to introduce testing to travelers from China. China will still require pre-departure checks for domestic travelers after January 8.
Some Chinese citizens think the reopening is too hasty.
“They should have taken a series of actions before they opened, such as advising what precautions people of a certain age should take… and at least making sure pharmacies are always enough stock,” a 70-year-old man who gave his surname as Zhao told Reuters in Shanghai.
“By not doing this, it was very messy.”
China reported five new COVID deaths in the mainland on Thursday, bringing the country’s official virus death toll to 5,264, one of the lowest in the world.
But that contrasts with the real situation, where funeral homes and crematoriums are overwhelmed, and some hospitals are packed with elderly patients wearing respirators.
International health experts believe Beijing’s limited definition of COVID-19 deaths does not reflect the true number that could top more than a million deaths this year.
Southeast Asia OPEN
With the big Lunar New Year holiday later this month, the mainland will also open its borders to the Hong Kong special administrative region on Sunday for the first time in three years.
Ferry service between the city and Macau’s gambling hub will resume on the same day.
Hong Kong carrier Cathay Pacific said on Thursday it would more than double its flights to mainland China. Flights to and from China are still very small compared to pre-Covid levels.
The WHO has warned that the holiday season, which begins on January 21 and typically brings about the largest human migration on the planet as people return home from cities to visit family in the countryside, has could set off another wave of infections if higher vaccination rates and other preventive measures were not taken.
Authorities expect 2.1 billion passengers, by road, rail, water and air, during the holiday, double the 1.05 billion mark last year in same period.
The transport ministry has urged people to exercise caution to minimize the risk of infection to elderly relatives, pregnant women and babies.
One region that could potentially benefit from China’s opening up is Southeast Asia, which has shied away from requests for COVID testing from Chinese travelers.
With the exception of testing Malaysian and Thai aircraft wastewater for the virus, 11 countries in the region will treat Chinese tourists like any other country.
According to a survey published in December by trade show ITB China, up to 76% of Chinese travel agencies ranked Southeast Asia as the top destination when foreign tourism resumes.


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