What does NRC | China is cautious about the outbreak, so it is wise to check travelers from China extra for corona

Pretend that nothing much is happening: the Chinese authorities are good at this, as it turns out time and time again. At the start of the corona pandemic, this attitude contributed to the rapid global spread of the then very deadly virus. For too long, China has not acknowledged that an animal market in Wuhan was very likely the starting point for the spread of the virus. During and after an investigation by the World Health Organization WHO in early 2021, the country cooperated less well than hoped. And even now, it’s still a guess how big the risk is from the big outbreak that China recently faced again. There would be no new variants, China said this week to reassure. The WHO confirms that China says this, but also emphasizes that the information from the country is still insufficient.

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What is clear is that there is a gap between what the Chinese rulers say publicly and the human drama currently taking place in Chinese hospitals. Until recently, there was the hard zero covid policy: the idea that you can control the virus with mass confinement of covid patients, real or potential. When this led to large protests, there were also quite conspicuous, things changed. Or rather released. The numbers doing the rounds are staggering. Every day, millions of Chinese are infected and around nine thousand die from corona. At least 1 million deaths are expected this year. You can add cynically: on a population of 1.4 billion, but the explosion in infections also gives the virus more chances to develop new variants. The good news: it’s impossible to predict how dangerous these possible variants will be. In other words, it can work.

Or not so. It is no coincidence that the situation in China elsewhere in the world raises some nerves, despite the much higher vaccination coverage in e.g. European countries. Italy, with the horror images of Bergamo still on the retina, decided last week to structurally test travelers from China after it was found that almost half of the passengers on a flight from China were infected. Control has also been tightened in several Asian countries and in the United States. And after Italy followed France, Spain and Great Britain. Not everyone in the EU is convinced. Austria is clearly eager to welcome back Chinese tourists after the dip of recent years. At most, Schiphol wishes to offer travelers from China a free self-test and information on its use.

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On Wednesday, EU countries agreed on a coordinated approach, but the nature of this is non-binding. Countries are ‘encouraged’ to take certain measures, such as the use of better face masks on planes and further research into waste water from the relevant airports and planes, but they are not required. It is worrying: if the corona pandemic has shown anything, it is that fighting the virus above all benefits from a clear policy. Among other things, the EU managed to handle the pandemic through joint procurement of vaccines and cross-border coordination of corona policy. In short: by temporarily subordinating national self-interests to the greater European interest. If only some EU countries tighten corona controls, the influx of tourists will move to EU countries where they do not. Because there are no internal borders, tourists will still find their way to Italy and Spain via Amsterdam and Vienna. To countries where, given the government finances, they could really use a tourism injection, but ignore it for the sake of public health.

China finds the extra controls “unreasonable” and threatens to take “appropriate” countermeasures. According to a spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the restrictions lack scientific support. It sounds ridiculous from a country that does not excel in transparency and pushes science aside when it is ideologically inconvenient. A country that also for months imposed very strict requirements on travelers from abroad. As long as the situation in China is surrounded by uncertainty and ambiguity, it is only wise to take preventive measures against it, even if these save only minimal time in slowing down the virus. Minimal time savings can mean the difference between life and death during the pandemic. If China wants reasonableness, it should show itself.

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