Vaccinated travellers will still face strict testing and centralised quarantine when they go to China despite global Covid-19 vaccination efforts gathering pace, according to a disease control official who cited concerns that vaccine limitations could cause an outbreak.
“We will continue to strictly implement remote prevention and control measures [on China-bound passengers before they travel] and carry out health checks, centralised isolation and coronavirus nucleic testing. At present, vaccinated passengers will not be exempted from testing and quarantine,” said Feng Zijian, deputy director of the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Goods will also be checked to prevent the transmission of Covid-19.”
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This is the first time China has declared its stance on whether border control will be relaxed with Covid-19 vaccination. It may deal a blow to vaccine passports, which various countries hoped would hasten a return to international travel without quarantine.
Israel has already reached agreement with Greece, Cyprus and the Seychelles to allow vaccinated citizens to visit. Some European countries are expected to allow vaccinated Israelis to enter. The Europe Union will vote on a digital green certificate that would allow holders to travel freely within the union.
China proposed its own version of a vaccine passport earlier this month and said it sought reciprocal arrangements with other countries on the basis of “accommodating each other’s concerns” but the idea of ending or cutting quarantine periods would need further review.
Feng suggested that restrictive measures could be lifted only when the domestic population had reached “a high level of immune protection”.
“We will keep an eye on the progress of the vaccine passport internationally and adjust preventive measures when the domestic population has reached a high level of immune protection and [a vaccine passport] becomes feasible,” Feng said.
China started administering Covid-19 vaccines in July last year and had given 74.96 million doses by Saturday, lagging behind countries such as Israel and the United States in terms of vaccination rate. It aims to inoculate 40 per cent of its population by July and 70 to 80 per cent by mid-2022 or sooner, depending on the vaccine production capacity and the public’s willingness to get the jab.
Before reaching that “high level of immunity”, China will adopt different visa policies and adjust the number of international flights based on the level of vaccination and epidemic control situations in different countries, according to Feng.
He said China was still vulnerable to outbreaks caused by passengers or goods from countries with high Covid-19 prevalence because of the low domestic inoculation rate.
The deputy director said even if passengers could prove they carried the virus antibody because of previous infection or vaccination, the risk of reinfection could not be ruled out completely.
Covid-19 vaccines – regardless of the technology used or the country or manufacturer they came from – worked less effectively to prevent asymptomatic infection or mild cases and might have reduced potency with coronavirus variants, Feng said.
“Without proper prevention this could cause Covid-19 spreading in China,” Feng said. “Taking into consideration these factors, the norm of Covid-19 control will still be about prevention against outbreaks from imported cases and Covid-19 relapses in China.”
China adopts a “containment” strategy and aims to have no local Covid-19 cases. By Sunday, 90,106 cases of infection were recorded in over a year. Since last summer most new cases were reported in overseas passengers.
He Qinghua, a senior official with the National Health Commission, said a controlled Covid-19 situation had given “a wrong perception” that vaccination was not urgent for China but the country still needed vaccination as a control measure.
“The epidemic situation in China has been effectively controlled, so there has not been a large-scale outbreak and the proportion of people who have acquired immunity due to the new coronavirus is relatively low. We must have more and more people gain immunity and protection through vaccination,” He said.
China has started to vaccinate people aged 60 and above based on their health conditions. The coverage will be expanded after more efficacy and safety data become available, according to Mi Feng, a spokesman for the National Health Commission.
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