US considers new Covid rules for travelers from China

WASHINGTON — Alarmed by the surge in Covid cases in China after the sudden end of its “zero Covid” measures, the Biden administration is considering new rules for travelers from China, such as testing upon arrival in the US. and additional monitoring, say two US officials at NBC News.

Officials say the US and other countries are concerned that China is not transparently reporting Covid data — specifically, viral genomic sequence data — needed to assess spread and identify any variants of concern.

The officials said the Biden administration was considering measures similar to those already taken by Japan, which said Tuesday all travelers from mainland China would be screened upon arrival, and Malaysia, which has stepped up tracking and surveillance of travelers. from China.

Taiwan also said Wednesday that travelers from mainland China would have to take a PCR test upon arrival, and those who test positive would be allowed to self-isolate at home. India last week said it would make virus tests mandatory for travelers arriving from China, as well as Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Thailand. As in Japan, anyone who tests positive will be required to self-quarantine.

The Biden administration’s considerations were first reported by Bloomberg.

Any restrictions would apply to all travelers from China, regardless of nationality, US officials said. There is no indication that the US is considering a “travel ban” or prohibiting people from traveling to the US from China.

Patients receive treatment at a fever clinic in Beijing on December 27, 2022.Yi Haifei/China News Service via Getty Images

When asked about Washington’s possible move, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Wednesday that all countries should “fight the epidemic scientifically, work together to ensure safe travel between countries, maintain the stability of global industrial and supply chains, and restoring health.” growth of the world economy.

Wang also said the COVID situation in China was “generally within expectations and under control,” and accused Western media of smearing China’s anti-Covid efforts while downplaying the earlier pandemic chaos in their own countries.

US officials said there were concerns about a possible variant of concern emanating from China, how they would identify it, and how the spread could be stopped.

“The United States is following the science and the advice of public health experts, consulting with partners, and considering similar steps that we can take to protect the American people,” one of the US officials said.

Earlier this month, China abruptly eased its “covid zero” approach following mass protests, scrapping internal rules and lifting quarantine requirements for travelers to China. Subsequently, the number of cases skyrocketed, putting pressure on hospitals and other healthcare facilities.

The World Health Organization has said it is very concerned by increasing reports of severe Covid cases in China and has raised doubts about the figures released by Beijing.

However, Dr. Siddharth Sridhar, a clinical virologist at the University of Hong Kong, said the China outbreak poses little threat to countries like the US, which has a high level of immunity through infections and vaccinations, and that the new requirements for travelers from China were unlikely to be effective.

The omicron variant and its sublineages “always find a way to infiltrate borders and circulate around the world, even through performance constraints like PCR tests,” he said.

Although the wave of infections that is affecting China’s 1.4 billion people could, in theory, give rise to a new variant, as when the delta variant emerged in India at the beginning of the pandemic, “still, there is every possibility of what [the China outbreak] It will accelerate the rate at which we start to normalize,” said Dr. david owensfounder of OT&P Healthcare in Hong Kong.

“What the United States should be concerned about is vaccinating its own vulnerable,” he added.

Reuters contributed.