Rare glimpse of China’s covid infections from airport testing data

Rare glimpse of China's covid infections from airport testing data
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SEOUL – As more travelers from China begin visiting international destinations for the first time in three years, Covid data from places with tests on arrival offers a glimpse into the pandemic situation inside China, which the World Health Organization said has been obscured by insufficient data.

at the end of December, two flights from China to Italy brought almost 100 passengers infected with coronovirus; about half of one flight and a third of another tested positive.

Countries around the world soon implemented an increase testing requirements for arrivals China, which came into effect in the run-up to increased travel during the Lunar New Year holiday in late January. The new rules take effect amid reports of overflowing hospitals and the shortage of medicines in China after it reversed its “zero covid” policy.

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

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Official data showed infection rates of more than 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 a 23.2% infection rate for short-term visitors from China to Korea (or 314 of 1,352 tested at the airport) since the January 1. 2 to Jan. 6. The KDCA expects to release data on all travelers from China next week, an official told The Post.

According to the Taiwan Centers for Disease Control, since January 1. 1 to Jan 5 about one in five travelers (21%) from mainland China tested positive for covid, or 1,111 of 5,283 arrivals.

On Friday, Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare reported that about 8 percent of visitors from China from Dec. 30 to Jan. 6 had tested positive for covid, or 408 of 4,895 arrivals. Data for Italy was not immediately available.

These figures are certainly [the] tip of the iceberg, highlighting the immense size of infections in China,” Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for Global Health at the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote in an email in response to early reports suggesting an infection rate of 20 to 50 percent among the Chinese. Travellers.

The numbers are particularly high, “considering that people would not normally travel abroad unless they are feeling well and healthy, or are not showing symptoms,” he said.

However, given the high levels of exposure to covid in many countries, “it is not reasonable to see [visitors from China] as sick or dangerous,” he said.

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

“Given that most infections occurred in late December and early January, and more than half of the population in major cities have already been infected, it is quite plausible that a high percentage of travelers have tested positive,” he wrote. “Most of those who have tested positive will have recently recovered from the infection rather than continue to be sick and/or contagious.”

China last month partially lifted internal restrictions in a move seen as a response to a rare public reaction directed to the country notoriously strict zero covid policy.

On Sunday, China will end extensive quarantine requirements for incoming passengers, a move that will mainly benefit Chinese who want to leave or overseas Chinese citizens who want to return. Mainland China is still closed to foreign tourists.

The move comes just weeks before the Lunar New Year, which begins on January 1. 22. Before the pandemic, travel during China’s “Golden Week” national holiday was believed to be the most important in the world. largest annual human migration.

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

Huang said that the holiday season will encourage “return tourism”—travel that makes up for time lost during the pandemic—and is likely to cause a spike in outbound infections. But he also said that travelers leaving China are unlikely to make the virus worse elsewhere.

“So far, there is no evidence of new China subvariants emerging,” he said. “Since most of these countries have learned to coexist with covid-19, the influx of Chinese visitors will not cause an increase in cases in these countries.”

The changes also come amid broader scrutiny of Beijing, which has stopped counting asymptomatic covid cases. He The World Health Organization has called data from China and requested more information from Beijing.

The proof requirements targeting arrivals from China has drawn the wrath of the Chinese authorities. “Some of these measures are disproportionate and simply unacceptable,” said one Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said at a January 3 press conference. “We firmly reject the use of COVID measures for political purposes and will take corresponding measures in response to various situations based on the principle of reciprocity.”

Julia Mio Inuma in Tokyo and Lily Kuo in Taipei, Taiwan contributed to this report.

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