February 5, 2023

The numbers are particularly high, “considering that people generally would not 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 unreasonable to view (visitors to China) as sick or dangerous,” he said.


Benjamin Cowling, an epidemiologist at the University of Hong Kong, called the high early infection rates “completely consistent with projections 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 backlash directed at the country’s 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 22. Before the pandemic, travel during China’s “Golden Week” national holiday was believed to be the world’s largest annual human migration.

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

Huang said the holiday season will encourage “retaliation 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. The World Health Organization disputed the data from China and requested more information from Beijing.

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

the washington post