- US, Japan, others require COVID tests from Chinese visitors
- China’s state media calls COVID travel restrictions ‘discriminatory’
- China’s factory activity likely cooled in the December survey
BEIJING, Dec 30 (Reuters) – Chinese state media said COVID-19 testing requirements imposed by some countries around the world in response to a rising wave of infections were “discriminatory”, in the clearest defiance yet of restrictions that are slowing reopening.
After keeping its borders closed for three years, imposing a strict regime of lockdowns and relentless testing, China suddenly reversed course toward living with the virus on Dec. 7, and a wave of infections erupted across the country.
Some countries have been surprised by the scale of China’s outbreak and have expressed skepticism over Beijing’s COVID statistics, with the United States, South Korea, India, Italy, Japan and Taiwan imposing COVID tests on travelers from China.
“The real intention is to sabotage China’s three-year effort to control COVID-19 and attack the country’s system,” the state-run Global Times tabloid said in an article late Thursday, calling the restrictions “baseless” and “discriminatory.”
China will stop requiring incoming travelers to quarantine from January 8. But she will still require a negative PCR test result within 48 hours before departure.
Italy on Thursday urged the rest of the European Union to follow suit, but France, Germany and Portugal have said they see no need for new restrictions, while Austria has highlighted the economic benefits of returning Chinese tourists to Europe.
Global spending by Chinese visitors was worth more than $250 billion a year before the pandemic.
The United States has raised concerns about possible mutations of the virus as it spreads in the world’s most populous country, as well as China’s data transparency.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is considering sampling sewage from international aircraft to track any emerging new variants, the agency told Reuters.
China, a country of 1.4 billion people, reported one new death from COVID on Thursday, the same as the day before — numbers that don’t match the experience of other countries as they reopened.
China’s official death toll of 5,247 since the pandemic began compares with more than 1 million deaths in the United States. Chinese-ruled Hong Kong, a city of 7.4 million people, has reported more than 11,000 deaths.
UK-based health data firm Airfinity said on Thursday around 9,000 people in China may be dying each day from COVID. China’s cumulative deaths since Dec. 1 are likely to have reached 100,000, with infections reaching 18.6 million, he said.
Airfinity expects COVID infections in China to reach their first peak on January 13, with 3.7 million cases per day.
China’s chief epidemiologist Wu Zunyou said Thursday that a team at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention plans to estimate the deaths differently.
The team will measure the difference between the number of deaths in the current wave of infections and the number of deaths expected if the epidemic had never occurred. By calculating “excess mortality,” China will be able to determine what could potentially have been underestimated, Wu said.
China has said it only counts deaths of COVID patients caused by pneumonia and respiratory failure as related to COVID.
The relatively low death toll is also inconsistent with the growing demand reported by funeral parlors in some Chinese cities.
The lifting of the restrictions, following widespread protests against them in November, has overwhelmed hospitals and funeral homes across the country, with scenes of people on roadside IVs and lines of hearses outside crematoriums fueling public concern.
Health experts say China has been caught badly off-guard by the sudden shift in policies long championed by President Xi Jinping. In December, tenders placed by hospitals for key medical equipment such as ventilators and patient monitors were two to three times higher than in previous months, according to a Reuters review, suggesting hospitals across the country were struggling to they covered the absences.
The world’s second-largest economy is expected to slow further in the near term as factory workers and shoppers fall ill. Some economists predict a strong rebound from a low base next year, but concerns remain that some of the damage caused by three years of restrictions could be long-lasting.
Consumers may need time to recover their confidence and spending appetite after losing income during the lockdowns, while the private sector may have used its expansion funds to cover losses incurred due to the restrictions.
Heavily indebted China will also face slowing demand in its key export markets, while its massive property sector is licking its wounds after a series of setbacks.
Factory activity in China was likely to cool in December as rising infections began to affect production lines, a Reuters poll showed on Friday.
Written by Marius Zaharia. Editing by Gerry Doyle
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