The United States has joined a growing number of countries that have moved to impose controls on passengers arriving from China, where the lifting of health restrictions is leading to an explosion in COVID-19 cases.
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Three years after the appearance of the very first cases of coronavirus in Wuhan (center), China put an end without notice on December 7 to its draconian policy known as “zero COVID”.
Since 2020, it has enabled the population to be largely protected from COVID, thanks to generalized screening tests, strict monitoring of movements, but also mandatory confinements and quarantines as soon as cases are discovered.
These draconian measures, which kept the country largely isolated from the rest of the planet, dealt a severe blow to the second largest economy in the world and provoked unusual demonstrations of discontent in November.
Since the lifting of restrictions, Chinese hospitals have been overwhelmed by a surge of patients, most of them elderly, and vulnerable, as they have been little or not vaccinated.
Despite the epidemic rebound, the authorities will end the mandatory quarantines on arrival in China on January 8, and allow the Chinese to travel abroad again, after three years of frustration.
As a precaution, the United States and several countries have announced that they will require negative PCR tests from passengers arriving from China.
Japan will take a similar step on Friday. In Europe, Italy, hard hit by COVID-19 in 2020, also announced mandatory testing.
Without explicitly naming a country, Beijing called on Thursday to favor “scientific” measures that do not hinder human exchanges.
"Made to Dirty"
China has kept its borders largely closed to foreign nationals since 2020.
The country has not issued tourist visas for almost three years and imposes a mandatory quarantine on arrival. This isolation measure will be lifted on January 8, but a screening test of less than 48 hours will still be required.
In France, President Emmanuel Macron has "requested appropriate measures to protect" the French from the government.
In Brussels, the European Commission will meet on Thursday to “discuss (…) possible measures for a coordinated approach” of EU states.
A spokesman for Chinese diplomacy, Wang Wenbin, lambasted on Thursday "certain comments [...] made to smear (China) and which do not correspond to reality."
The spokesperson was reacting to a question about the coverage of “certain Western media”.
At Beijing Capital International Airport, most Chinese interviewed by AFP on Thursday were sympathetic to the measures taken against China.
“Each nation has its own concerns and its own way of protecting itself,” said Huang Hongxu, 21, stressing that the possible spread of new variants was a cause for concern.
“These measures targeting passengers from China are temporary” and justified by “concern” around the reopening of China, notes Wu Jing, a Beijinger.
A traveler for his part described these measures as "useless" to AFP.
"It's a bit discriminatory," said Hu, who declined to give his full name.
In China, “our COVID policy for international arrivals is applied (in the same way for all)”, remarks the young man of 22 years.
“Why do other countries have to give special treatment to arrivals from China?” he asks.
On the epidemic front in China, hospitals are battling an upsurge in cases that is hitting the elderly the hardest.
In Shanghai, AFP journalists saw masked patients being transported on stretchers to a major hospital in the city on Thursday. In the establishment, a patient complained of having waited four hours to obtain medication.
In Tianjin (north), near Beijing, AFP saw two hospitals overwhelmed with COVID patients. Doctors must work tirelessly even if they are contaminated, said one of them.
Despite the context, only 5,000 new cases and one death were announced Thursday by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Figures that no longer seem to reflect reality, widespread screenings are no longer mandatory.