China Opens Up -- but is the World Ready?

After widespread outcry against the most rigorous COVID-19 control measure, i.e. the notorious Zero COVID policy, China decided to abruptly scrap the policy altogether in December.

Hundreds of millions of Chinese citizens were freed overnight from three-year virtual house arrest. What is more thrilling to the ordinary Chinese is that China’s border clamping policy aimed at curtaining COVID-19 infection by blocking cross-border movements was formally taken down as this piece is being composed.

The world, once so worried that China’s Zero COVID policy could have a deep dent in the global economy due to a disrupted supply chain, is now facing a new, but not less pressing, issue to deal with. Waves of freed Chinese citizens are pouring out of China’s border and arriving at the doorstep of any country that happens to be on their itinerary. But the longed-for arrival of Chinese goods after the resumption of regular supply activities is still months away.

Given the current outbreak of the supposed COVID-19 variant, many countries (the U.S., Japan, Spain, France, etc.) have imposed strict border regulation measures that require travelers from China (Hong Kong and Macau included) to provide COVID-negative proof at port of entry.

This time around, Italy was the first western country that implemented these restrictions. This action reminds the world a painful past. Exactly three years ago, when the whole world was uneasy about receiving tourists from China where a mysterious infectious disease was spreading and killing people like wildfire, Italy opened its arms to Chinese tourists, and literally embraced many of them in Italy’s streets. Within less than three months, Italy became the first non-China country hit hard by the COVID-19 virus, and was among the countries that suffered the heaviest casualties due to COVID-19 infection.

The 2020 lesson is learned. But the measures taken now by the world might not be adequate.

Most of the current COVID-restriction measures implemented by the above countries only require COVID-negative documentation originated from China. But any documentation from this source is highly untrustworthy.

China’s public COVID-19 testing system, which employed the common polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method that detects specific DNA sequence of the COVID virus, is notoriously fraudulent. Collected samples often were randomly designated positive as needed without even going through testing, and discarding collected samples without testing is so common that this practice no longer enraged the ordinary Chinese for quite some time.

The other COVID-detection method commonly used in China is the self-detection kit that detect fragments of the COVID virus protein. Although households would not throw away the kit without using it, the detection accuracy of those kits is actually worse than tossing a coin, as evaluated by some biomedical laboratories in 2020. The reason for this low quality and reliability is that these self-detection kits were almost unexceptionably manufactured by unknown biotech firms that were registered in a gold rush since 2020 to catch the COVID-19 economic windfall.

Documentation derived from using these fraudulent means would not provide intended protection to host countries where Chinese travelers are trying to get in.

Even if a host country is cautious enough to require on-site COVID tests at port of entry, this seemingly shrewd measure is still not a guarantee that a new wave of infection will be stopped at the border. China had quietly halted mandatory COVID testing, which had been imposed upon its entire population for almost three years, at the same time it ended the Zero COVID policy less than a month ago. While China’s daily official tally of new infection cases have surpassed the one hundred thousand mark since then, there is no reliable source confirming that those new infection cases are caused by the COVID-19 virus or its variants. Using the old detection criteria for a new, unverified infection is no different from shooting at the footprint left by a prey when the real target is already miles away.

What is more worrisome is that the picture of the latest eruption of infection waves in China is just as murky as it was three years ago when the original COVID-19 virus started to spread viciously, first in China, then worldwide. Although China’s official daily briefing on deaths from the new wave of infection is within single digits, funeral services in many Chinese megacities have been deluged with unprecedented numbers of cremation demands despite operating at full capacity already. The current rapid spread of infection and the unexplainable massive death in particular resemble nothing characteristic of the latest COVID-19 variant. Instead, what is happening in China at present is like a playback of the scenes in early 2020 in Wuhan, where the outbreak of COVID-19 was first reported.

Could the culprit of the current outbreak in China be the same original strain of COVID-19 virus, which has gone through a string of rapid evolution for three years in the rest of the world?

WHO chief Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has pleaded in vain with China to release the true data regarding its current outbreak, so that the world could be better equipped than three years ago for outbreak control.

Without China’s cooperation, the world’s efforts to contain China-originated infectious waves will always be ineffective at best, and more akin to shooting in the dark.

Image: Ming Xia

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