Beijing (AFP) – The United States joined a growing number of countries in imposing restrictions on travelers from China, after Beijing suddenly lifted the biggest impediment to international travel despite a local wave of infections.
Hospitals across China have been overwhelmed by an explosion of coronavirus cases after the rollback of the “zero covid” policy, which contained infections but hit the economy and sparked protests.
The country announced on Monday that it would lift the quarantine requirement for people arriving from abroad, prompting many Chinese to plan international travel.
In response, several countries such as the United States announced that they would require negative tests for covid-19 to admit visitors from China.
“The recent rapid increase in Covid-19 transmission in China increases the potential for the emergence of new variants” of the virus, a senior US health official told reporters.
Beijing has provided limited information on the variants circulating in China, according to the official, and control and reports of new infections have also decreased.
Italy, Japan, India and Malaysia also announced restrictive measures to guard against importing variants from China.
Beijing criticized the “exaggeration, defamation and political manipulation” of the Western press on its coronavirus situation.
“The current development of the Chinese epidemiological situation is predictable and under control,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said on Wednesday.
China still does not allow the entry of foreign visitors, and has suspended the issuance of visas for international tourists and students.
But the lifting of the mandatory quarantine sparked enormous interest among Chinese people in traveling abroad, after being largely confined to their own country since Beijing imposed restrictions in March 2020.
Italy argued that requiring tests of visitors from that country was “essential to ensure surveillance and identification of virus variants to protect the Italian population, Health Minister Orazio Schillaci said.
In turn, French President Emmanuel Macron called for “adequate measures to protect” its population, and assured that his government is monitoring “the evolution of the situation in China.”
The European Commission is due to meet on Thursday to discuss “possible measures for a coordinated approach” by the European Union to infections in China.
Meanwhile, Chinese hospitals are struggling to cope with the increase in infections, which especially affect the elderly and vulnerable people.
In Tianjin, some 140 km southwest of Beijing, AFP visited two hospital wards packed with virus patients.
A doctor said that they were asked to work even if they are infected.
AFP observed more than twenty patients, mostly elderly, lying on gurneys in public areas of the emergency department, and at least one corpse removed from a room.
“The wait to see a doctor is four hours,” an official told an elderly man who said he had covid-19. “There are 300 people before you.”
China’s National Health Commission announced last week that it would stop publishing the daily tally of deaths from the coronavirus.
But with the end of mass testing and the Chinese decision to change the definition of covid deaths, such figures are no longer credible to some analysts.