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The US announced new COVID-19 testing requirements on Wednesday for all travelers from China, joining other nations that have imposed restrictions due to a surge in infections.
The surge in cases in China follows the lifting of strict anti-virus controls in the nation. China’s “zero COVID” policies have kept the country’s infection rate low, but fueled public disillusionment and crushed economic growth.
The new US requirements, which start on January 5, apply to travelers regardless of their nationality and vaccination status.
IN statement explaining the testingThe US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cited the spike in infections and what they said was a lack of adequate and transparent information from China, including genomic sequencing of the virus strains circulating in the country.
“These data are critical to effectively monitor case growth and reduce the chance of a new problematic variant entering,” the CDC said.
Some scientists are worried the rise of COVID-19 in China may unleash a new variant of the coronavirus upon the world, which may or may not be similar to those now circulating. This is because every infection is another chance for the virus to mutate.
Hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets in Wuhan, China, as protests against China’s strict COVID restrictions spread across the country.
“What we want to avoid is the variant entering the U.S. and spreading like we saw with delta or omicron,” said Matthew Binniker, director of clinical virology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
But the CDC’s action may be less about stopping a new strain from crossing U.S. borders and more about increasing pressure on China to share more information, said Dr. David Dowdy, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, adding that it hopes restrictions “are not maintained longer than necessary.”
“I don’t think it’s going to have a big impact on slowing the spread of COVID-19,” Dowdy said. “We already have many transmissions of COVID-19 here within our borders.”
Dr. Stuart Campbell Ray, an infectious disease expert at Johns Hopkins University, agreed that China is not sharing enough information about genome sequencing. But he also said the U.S. has become a little complacent about consistency and needs to redouble its own efforts. The CDC also announced the expansion of an early warning program that tests volunteers at select airports for new and rare variants of the coronavirus. This program will expand to Seattle and Los Angeles airports.
Under the new US rules, travelers to the US from China, Hong Kong and Macau will be required to take a COVID-19 test no more than two days before travel and provide a negative test before boarding their flight. The test applies to anyone over the age of 2, including US citizens.
It will apply to people traveling from China via a third country and to people connecting through the US on their way to other destinations. Anyone with a positive test more than 10 days before the flight can provide documentation showing that they have recovered from COVID-19 in lieu of a negative test result.
Airlines will need to confirm negative tests and recovery documentation before passengers can board.
Other countries have taken similar steps in an effort to prevent infections from spreading beyond China’s borders. Japan will require a negative COVID-19 test on arrival for travelers from China, and Malaysia has announced new tracking and monitoring measures. India, Italy, South Korea and Taiwan require virus tests for visitors from China.
The Lunar New Year, which begins on January 22, is usually China’s busiest travel season, and China announced on Tuesday that it would resume issuing tourism passports for the first time since the pandemic began in 2020.
“We look forward to welcoming Chinese travelers back to the United States,” US Travel Association President and CEO Jeff Freeman said in a statement. He called the U.S. approach to testing arriving passengers “reasonable and appreciated.”
The US action is a return to testing requirements for some international travelers. The The Biden administration revoked the last of those mandates in June. At the time, the CDC continued to recommend that people boarding flights to the US get tested near the time of departure and not travel if they are sick.
“We’ve done this before. We can do it again,” Dowdy said.
At the beginning of the pandemic, US bans entry of foreigners traveling from China weeks after the virus first appeared there three years ago, and dozens of other countries have been added to the list. The country began lifting travel bans late last year, but required travelers to the US to be vaccinated and tested.
AP science writer Laura Ungar contributed.
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