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Rare glimpse of covid infections in China from airport testing data

Rare glimpse of covid infections in China 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 test-on-arrival locations offers insight into the pandemic situation in China, which World Health Organization what is said is obscured by insufficient data.

At the end of December two flights from China to Italy carried almost 100 passengers infected with the coronavirus; about half of one flight and a third of another tested positive.

Countries around the world soon implemented increased testing requirements for arrivals from China, which went into effect in preparation for increased travel during the Lunar New Year holiday in late January. The new rules come into effect amid announcements about overcrowded hospitals and drug shortages in China after it reversed its “zero covid” policy.

Among the strictest are policies in Italy, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan, which require testing on arrival for travelers from China. The United States requires proof of a negative test before departure, while other countries test sewage from aircraft 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 Agency for Disease Control and Prevention obtained by The Washington Post showed a 23.2 percent infection rate for short-term visitors from China to Korea (or 314 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.

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

This was announced on Friday by the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare about 8 percent of visitors from China from December 30 to January 6 tested positive for covid, or 408 out of 4,895 arrivals. Data from Italy was not immediately available.

“Those numbers certainly are [the] the tip of the iceberg, highlighting the sheer scale of infections in China,” Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Council on International Relations, wrote in an email in response to early reports suggesting infection rates of 20 to 50 percent among Chinese travelers.

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

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

Benjamin Cowling, an epidemiologist at the University of Hong Kong, called the high rates of early infection “entirely consistent with predictions that most of the population of large cities is already infected.” He said in an email that people can remain positive on PCR tests for weeks.

“Since most infections occurred in late December and early January, and more than half of the population in major cities is already infected, it is quite plausible that a high percentage of travelers tested positive,” he wrote. “Those who test positive have mostly recently recovered from infection, rather than still being sick and/or contagious.”

Last month, China partially lifted domestic restrictions in a move seen as a response to a rare public reaction aimed at the country the famously strict zero covid policy.

On Sunday, China will end extensive quarantine requirements for arriving travelers, a decision that will mostly benefit Chinese who want to leave or Chinese nationals abroad 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 22. Before the pandemic, travel during China’s national holiday Golden Week was thought to be global the largest annual human migration.

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

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

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

The changes also come amid wider surveillance by Beijing, which has done so stopped counting asymptomatic covid cases. The The World Health Organization questioned data to China and requested more information from Beijing.

The testing requirements targeting arrivals from China have been exhausted anger from the Chinese authorities. “Some of these measures are disproportionate and simply unacceptable,” a This was said by the spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry at a press conference on January 3. “We categorically reject the use of COVID measures for political purposes and will take appropriate 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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