Rare glimpse of COVID infections in China from airport testing data

Suspension

SEOUL — As more travelers from China begin visiting international destinations for the first time in three years, COVID data from places tested on arrival provides a snapshot of the epidemic situation within China, which World Health Organization He said it was withheld due to insufficient data.

in late december, Two flights from China to Italy brought nearly 100 passengers infected with the coronavirus; About half of one flight and a third of another tested positive.

Countries around the world soon implemented an increase Test requirements for comers from China, which came into effect during the run-up to increased travel during the Lunar New Year holiday in late January. The new rules go into effect amid reports of Hospitals are overflowing And the shortage of medicines in China after it retracted its “zero Covid” policy.

Among the stricter policies are Italy, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan, which require testing on arrival for passengers from China. The United States requires proof of a negative test before departure, while other countries test sewage from aircraft on flights from China.

Hong Kong is reopening in China, amid concern about access to coronavirus and painkillers

Official data showed that infection rates exceeded 20 percent among travelers from China to neighboring South Korea and Taiwan in the first week of January.

Data from the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency obtained by The Washington Post showed an infection rate of 23.2% for short-term visitors from China to Korea (or 314 out of 1,352 tested at the airport) from Jan. 2 to Jan. 6. KDCA expects to release data on all travelers from China next week, an official told The Post.

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According to Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control, from January 1 to January 5, one in five travelers (21%) from mainland China tested positive for the coronavirus, or 1,111 out of 5,283 arrivals.

On Friday, Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare reported that About 8 percent of visitors of China from December 30 to January 6 tested positive for coronavirus, or 408 out of 4,895 arrivals. Data from Italy was not immediately available.

These numbers are definitely [the] The tip of the iceberg, highlighting the massive scale of infection in China, Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote in an email, responding to early reports of an infection rate of 20 to 50 percent among the Chinese. travelers.

The numbers are particularly high, he said, “considering that people usually don’t travel abroad unless they feel well, or they don’t show symptoms.”

However, given the high levels of exposure to COVID-19 in many countries, “it’s not reasonable to watch it [visitors from China] sick or dangerous.”

Benjamin Colling, an epidemiologist at the University of Hong Kong, described the high early infection rates as “fully consistent with expectations that the majority of the population of major cities has already been infected”. He said in an email that people can remain positive in PCR tests for weeks.

“Since most infections occurred in late December and early January, and more than half of the population in major cities has already been infected, it is entirely plausible that a high proportion of travelers would have tested positive for the virus,” he wrote. “Those who test positive will often recover recently from infection rather than remain ill and/or infectious.”

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Last month, China partially lifted domestic restrictions in a move seen as a response to General reaction is rare addressed to the country Strict policy known not to spread coronavirus.

On Sunday, China will end its extensive quarantine requirements for inbound passengers, a decision that will mostly benefit Chinese people who want to leave or Chinese nationals abroad who want to return. Mainland China remains closed to foreign tourists.

The move comes just weeks before the Lunar New Year, which begins on January 22. Before the epidemic, traveling during China’s “Golden Week” holiday was thought of as the world’s holiday The largest annual human migration.

The Chinese holiday, Cowling said, “will ensure that the virus reaches every corner of the country by the end of January.”

Huang said that the festive season will encourage “Revenge tourism— travel to make up for time lost during the pandemic — and is likely to cause an increase in outbound infections. But he also said that travelers leaving China were unlikely to cause the virus to worsen elsewhere.

“So far, there is no evidence of new sub-variants emerging from China,” he said. “Considering that most of these countries have learned to live with COVID-19, the influx of Chinese visitors will not lead to a rise in cases of infection in these countries.”

The changes also come amid broader scrutiny in Beijing, which has been subject to them Stop counting asymptomatic COVID cases. the The World Health Organization questioned China data requested more information from Beijing.

the test Requirements targeting arrivals from China have been drawn up Infuriated by the Chinese authorities. Some of these measures are disproportionate and simply unacceptable Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said At a news conference Jan. 3. “We firmly reject the use of COVID measures for political purposes and will take corresponding measures in response to different situations based on the principle of reciprocity.”

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Julia Mio Enuma in Tokyo and Lily Koo in Taipei, Taiwan, contributed to this report.

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