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China says Covid travel restrictions imposed by other countries are ‘discriminatory’ as cases surge

Passengers check-in at the HK Express counter at the international airport in Hong Kong  (AFP via Getty Images)
Passengers check-in at the HK Express counter at the international airport in Hong Kong (AFP via Getty Images)

China has claimed Covid testing requirements imposed by other countries in response to its huge surge in cases are “discriminatory”.

The US, South Korea and Italy are among several countries that have made Covid tests mandatory for travellers from China in the past week as a wave of infection sweeps the country.

The UK Government has not opted to impose curbs on Chinese travellers though Downing Street has indicated that the decision is “under review”.

Health officials are said to be concerned by the lack of clear data being released by Beijing.

Meanwhile, Spain on Friday became the second European country to announce new Covid restrictions for travellers from China.

In an editorial published on Friday, China’s state-run tabloid The Global Times said the “real intention” of the travel measures was to “sabotage China’s three years of Covid-19 control and attack the country’s system”.

They labelled the restrictions “unfounded” and “discriminatory” despite warnings from health experts that the country could become a breeding ground for new variants.

China’s President Xi Jinping abruptly ended the country’s Zero Covid strategy on December 7, which sought to eliminate all transmission of the virus through harsh lockdowns and mass testing. The policy sparked protests in several Chinese cities last month.

Vaccination programmes have allowed most countries to return to a pre-pandemic normal, as there are several Covid jabs that provide a high level of protection against severe illness.

However, China’s vaccination coverage lags far behind other countries.

Just 42.3 per cent of over-80s have received two jabs and a booster, according to official figures. In the UK, over three-quarters (77 per cent) of over-75s have had four vaccinations.

The country has nine domestically-developed Covid vaccines approved for use, but none has been updated to target the highly infectious Omicron variant.

Sinovac and Sinopharm, the most widely distributed jabs in China, are also not as effective at preventing severe illness as MRNA vaccines such as that made by Pfizer.

Health officials fear that the large wave of infection sparked by China’s reopening could lead to the emergence of new variants, as high levels of transmission allow the virus to mutate.

China reported just one new Covid death for Thursday, same as the day before – numbers which do not match the experience of other countries after they reopened.

UK-based health data firm Airfinity said on Thursday around 9,000 people in China are probably dying each day from Covid.

Cumulative deaths since December 1 have likely reached 100,000, with infections topping 18.6 million, it said.

Nearly 250 million people in China may have caught Covid in the first 20 days of December, according to leaked internal estimates from the country’s top health officials reported by the Financial Times.

China will stop requiring inbound travellers to go into quarantine from January 8. But it will still demand a negative PCR test result within 48 hours before departure.

Italy on Thursday urged the rest of the EU to follow its lead on imposing mandatory tests, but France, Germany and Portugal have said they saw no need for new restrictions.

Health minister Will Quince said on Thursday that the decision was “under review” but that there were no signs of a concerning new variant.

He said: “The key threat is any new variant, there is no evidence at this point of a new variant from China, a variant that is not already prevalent here in the UK, but nevertheless we’re keeping the situation very much under review.”