Chinese state media on Thursday said restrictions imposed by several countries, including India, on travellers from China were “discriminatory”, amid reports of Covid rampaging through the country after it reversed some of the world’s strictest virus-control policies in early December.
No new variant has been reported from China, but global anxiety has been heightened given that China was accused of withholding information when the Covid-19 virus first broke out in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019. There is widespread worry that China could again be withholding information as it struggles to contain the massive virus outbreak across the country.
It kept its borders tightly shut for nearly three years from March 2020, shutting down international flight links and controlling domestic outbreaks through lockdowns and mass testing. But, the official zero Covid policy was dropped overnight earlier in December and China pivoted to “living with the virus” without any prior warning.
It will reopen its borders on January 8, though it’s likely to take a while for the number of international flights to return to pre-pandemic numbers.
he sudden change in policy, however, resulted in a massive number of Covid-19 infections across China, overstretching the country’s medical infrastructure. This has triggered fears over the emergence of new Covid strains, and led countries to impose restrictions on travellers from China. They have cited a lack of information on the latest outbreak as the reason, a charge Beijing has rejected.
South Korea, Malaysia and Spain on Friday joined a growing list of countries, including India, Taiwan, the US and Japan, in imposing restrictions on travellers from China, including mandatory Covid-19 tests.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Thursday said it needs more information to assess the latest surge in infections in the country, adding to global scepticism over China’s handling of the latest outbreak.
In order to make a comprehensive risk assessment of the COVID19 situation on the ground in China, WHO needs more detailed information,” director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghenreyesus said late on Thursday in a post on Twitter.
“In the absence of comprehensive information from China, it is understandable that countries around the world are acting in ways that they believe may protect their populations.
“We remain concerned about the evolving situation and we continue encouraging China to track the Covid-19 virus and vaccinate the highest risk people. We continue to offer our support for clinical care and protecting its health system,” he said.
The Chinese foreign ministry weighed in on Tedros’ comments, saying virus prevention measures of various countries should be scientific and appropriate, and should not affect “normal personnel exchanges”.
“Since the outbreak of the epidemic, China has been sharing relevant information and data with the international community, including WHO, in an open and transparent manner,” foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said on Friday.
“We shared the sequence of the new coronavirus at the first instance, and thus making important contributions to the development of relevant vaccines, drugs in other countries,” he added.
At the same time, Chinese state media slammed criticism against the lack of information shared by China and restrictions imposed by countries.
The state-run tabloid, Global Times (GT), called the moves by a “small number of countries” as “discriminatory” and an effort to “defame” Beijing.
“A small number of countries and regions, such as the US and Japan, see China’s reopening as another chance to defame Beijing. They have imposed travel restrictions on arrivals from China, citing what experts called ‘unfounded’ and ’discriminatory’ measures to defend their moves, but the real intention is to sabotage China’s three years of Covid-19 control efforts and attack the country’s system,” the opinion piece said
“Experts said that it is understandable for countries to be cautious in the face of Covid-19, but specifically targeting China and jumping on its reopening to smear the country’s Covid-19 battle and its system is clearly a dirty political trick by those countries,” it added.
China’s national health commission (NHC) has argued that the country’s release of information on Covid-19 has been “transparent”.
“China has always been publishing information on Covid-19 deaths and severe cases in the spirit of openness and transparency,” NHC’s Jiao Yahui was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua news agency.
“Since 2020, the Covid-19 death criterion we are adopting in China has been the first kind,” Jiao said, adding that China counts a death from respiratory failure caused by the novel coronavirus after a positive Covid-19 test as a Covid-19 death.