English News


Chinese tourists under the scanner as fears of Covid rise 

Quarantine officials in Seoul, South Korea, introduce procedures for Covid-19 tests to passengers from China at the Incheon International Airport on January 2, 2023 (Yonhap/IANS)

The fast spread of the covid infection in China, with new variants, has spread fear among countries many of which are showing signs of economic recovery with a high rate of vaccinations.

The scrapping of the zero Covid policy by China in the face of mass protests and riots in December 2022 has fuelled global fears that Chinese tourists may cause another surge in the deadly infection. Many countries who gradually opened up travel and tourism are debating whether they should impose curbs on Chinese nationals as deaths mount in the communist country.

The European Union’s (EU) Integrated Political Crisis Response group (IPCR) that has officials from EU’s 27 governments, has suggested that all members should seek negative Covid tests from arrivals from China. It has also suggested that all passengers from China wear face masks, random testing be done for flights wastewater be monitored at European airports.

Similar debates are taking place in countries close to China, which are wondering whether they should put restrictions on passengers from China or allow them unhindered to boost local tourism. For South-East Asian nations like Thailand and Malaysia, China provides the largest number of tourists boosting their economies considerably.

On its part China is putting up a brave front.

On Tuesday the Chinese Foreign Ministry accused countries of imposing covid entry restrictions on a non-scientific basis and “for political purposes”. Spokesperson Mao Ning said: “Some of these measures are disproportionate and simply unacceptable. We firmly reject using covid measures for political purposes and will take corresponding measures in response to varying situations based on the principle of reciprocity”.

However, the fears among countries regarding China are not unfounded.

Lately, the World Health Organization (WHO) has been critical about the data flowing out of China. It said that China is “under-representing” the severity of the current Covid-19 outbreak.

China has reported only 22 deaths since December while the media including social media is flooded with videos and images of people overflowing hospitals and crematoriums.

WHO emergencies director Dr Michael Ryan told the media that China’s figures “under-represent the true impact of the disease in terms of hospital admissions, in terms of ICU admissions, and particularly in terms of deaths”.

On Wednesday, WHO said that Omicron subvariants BA.5.2 and BF.7 are driving 97.5 per cent of the infections in China. It also urged nations across the world to continue to remain vigilant, monitor and report sequences of the virus.