US institutes travel restrictions as China COVID cases surge

(NewsNation) — The U.S. will require negative COVID tests for those traveling from China starting Jan. 5.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that anyone traveling from China will need to supply a negative COVID-19 test taken no more than two days before travel or they won’t be able to depart, in a new policy that comes as China sees a rise in cases.

China has seen a rapid rise in COVID cases as officials have moved away from the “zero COVID” policy that resulted in strict lockdown, with residents in some areas restricted to their homes after COVID cases were detected.

Protests erupted after a fire in an apartment building in the Xinjian province killed 10 people. Protesters accused COVID policies of slowing the emergency response and filled the streets in an unusual show of resistance.

As China began to ease restrictions, COVID cases surged, overwhelming hospitals and sparking fears a new variant could emerge. China has also announced it would stop reporting asymptomatic cases, limited how it defined a COVID death and announced it would stop publishing daily COVID numbers.

The rapid spread has been blamed on low immunity rates in a country where strict lockdowns kept people from getting the virus and developing post-viral immunity while vaccine rates also remained low. China also refused to import foreign-made mRNA vaccines and anti-viral medications, instead relying on less effective vaccines produced there.

China has also announced it will resume issuing tourism passports, which were previously suspended.

U.S. officials have expressed concern that the Chinese government is not being transparent when it comes to the state of COVID in the country, and the administration is considering requiring additional COVID precautions for those traveling from China.

Dr. Jayne Morgan, executive director of health and community education at Piedmont Healthcare, Inc., said China’s policies have seesawed between two extremes.

“They had these lockdowns and then they went immediately to a completely open society, and that’s what we’re seeing the result of,” Morgan said. “In the scientific community what concerns us the greatest is the evolution of new variants, and whether we will be able to track the genomics of those variants and be prepared for them ahead of time.”

Other countries are already taking steps to prevent COVID spreading from China, including Japan, which has announced all visitors from China will need to take a COVID test.

Travel bans were instituted early in the pandemic, and Morgan questioned whether the strategy would be effective if the United States takes that step again.

“It’s very porous when we are talking about … an airborne virus. It’s very difficult to contain free air, especially when we are talking about the movement of humans, who require air for life,” Morgan said. “A better approach, I think the scientific community probably agrees with this, is vaccinating and boosting the population in China. They are severely under-immunized, and also in the United States … we certainly could do better with boosters as well.”

When the pandemic first began in 2020, the Trump administration restricted travel from China, barring any travel from China with an exception for U.S. citizens returning home. The administration also instituted screening requirements and self-quarantine requirements for anyone coming to the U.S. from China.

President Joe Biden and members of his current administration attacked the travel ban as xenophobic, noting it allowed some travelers from China in but denied those who held Chinese passports. The ban was also criticized for not doing enough to stop COVID due to exemptions for U.S. citizens and others.

The Biden administration has said there would be no ban on travel from China and that this policy will apply to anyone traveling from mainland China regardless of nationality. The test requirement will also apply to those who travel from China through other countries and those whose flights connect in the U.S. en route to another destination.

Passengers who tested positive 10 days or more prior to travel can also supply proof of recovery in place of a negative test.

Coronavirus

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