The Washington Post
U.S. to lift coronavirus testing requirements on travelers from China
U.S. officials are set to relax coronavirus testing requirements on travelers from China as soon as Friday, a decision that comes as cases decline in that country, according to three officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the plan.
The White House declined to comment on the plan, which the officials said was being finalized Tuesday. National security and health officials reached a decision to roll back the testing requirements this week and were expected to begin notifying U.S. airlines, Chinese diplomats and others before announcing the change.
The three officials characterized the decision as driven by public health, rather than foreign policy, priorities. Other countries, such as Japan, that imposed similar requirements on travelers from mainland China have also eased testing rules.
The U.S. requirement that all travelers 2 and older show a negative test result when entering this country went into effect Jan. 5, after China lifted its strict zero-covid policies and infections and deaths soared there. U.S. officials at the time said they were concerned that the wave of cases sweeping China could spark new variants that might threaten people around the world. The policy was also intended to put pressure on China to more aggressively monitor and share data amid questions about the country’s implausibly low numbers of coronavirus cases and deaths.
“We’re seeing an unprecedented outbreak in China and obviously a lot of concern for the people of China. . . . The issue that concerns us on top of that is a lack of transparency,” White House coronavirus coordinator Ashish Jha told NPR as the policy took effect.
Chinese officials the following week acknowledged the rising covid-19 death toll — revising the official count from 37 deaths to nearly 60,000 on Jan. 14 — but argued that cases had peaked.
U.S. officials say they have been reassured in recent weeks by indications of declining deaths and infections in China, although they acknowledged that the data is almost certainly a significant undercount. Health analytics firm Airfinity projected that China’s covid death toll would peak at 36,000 deaths per day in late January, and U.S. officials believe that the majority of China’s population of 1.4 billion people was infected in the country’s recent coronavirus wave.
U.S. officials also were concerned about China’s lack of transparency around genomic testing to detect emerging variants. In early January, as part of the U.S. response, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expanded genomic surveillance at several major U.S. airports, which included collecting voluntary samples from passengers aboard hundreds of weekly flights from China, as well as the testing of wastewater aboard airplanes. Those efforts will continue, officials said Tuesday.
The plan to lift testing requirements comes amid tensions between Chinese and U.S. officials over the pandemic response and other policies, including a recent incident involving a suspected spy balloon. Chinese officials in January threatened “countermeasures” against the United States and other countries that imposed coronavirus testing requirements on travelers, and Chinese leader Xi Jinping this week directly accused the United States of trying to “contain, encircle and suppress” China.
U.S.- China relations over the pandemic also have been strained by American officials’ continued focus on the “lab-leak theory,” which posits that the pandemic began when the coronavirus accidentally escaped from a lab in Wuhan, a city in central China. The Energy Department and the FBI have both concluded that a lab leak was the most likely origin of the pandemic, although most other U.S. intelligence agencies favor the theory that the virus naturally “spilled over” from animals to humans. Congressional Republicans are set to hold a hearing Wednesday further probing the virus’s origin. Chinese officials have denied the claims and said that the accusation is defamatory.