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Canada, Australia Impose Covid Restrictions On Travellers From China, Health Experts Doubt The Strategy

As China battles a nationwide Covid-19 outbreak, Australia and Canada are the latest to join countries like India, US, and UK requiring Chinese travelers to take a Covid-19 test prior to boarding their flight.

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Mass COVID test in Beijing
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Australia and Canada have joined other countries like the US, UK, India, Japan and several European nations in imposing tougher Covid-19 measures on travelers from China amid concerns over a lack of data on infections in China and fears over the possibility of spread of new variants.

From January 5, all air travelers from mainland China, Hong Kong, or Macao will be needed to show a negative Covid-19 test taken within two days of their departure, said Australian Health Authorities on Sunday. Canadian authorities announced similar measures to be in effect from January 5 in a statement dated Saturday — a strategy experts say isn't very efficient.

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Kerry Bowman, Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto's Temerty Faculty of Medicine, called the measure “not based on science at this point". Not being the early days of the Pandemic, Bowman added, “It's pretty clear that point-of-entry screening is not very effective at all. Often people can test positive days and weeks later.”

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, Associate Professor at University of Toronto's Temerty Faculty of Medicine called the policy’s goals not entirely clear.

“We know from the past that very focused and targeted travel measures such as this don't do much to prevent the spread of COVID, either by importing COVID to Canada, or by the threat of variants of concern in Canada,” said Bogoch.

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China, which for most of the two years of the pandemic adopted a stringent “zero-COVID” strategy of imposing harsh restrictions on civilians to stamp out the virus, abruptly eased those measures in December. The Chinese authorities previously stated that overseas travelers would no longer need to quarantine upon arriving in China from January 8, thus providing relief for Chinese residents to travel.

As per the Facebook post by Hong Kong Chief Secretary Eric Chan, Hong Kong has also began preparing for quarantine-free travel to China, with plans to resume operations of more border checkpoints beginning as early as January 8. However, a quota system will be limiting the number of travelers between China and Hong Kong.

“Depending on the first phase of the situation, we will gradually expand the scale for a complete reopening of the border,” Chan said.

In China, eased restrictions meant New Year's celebrations in large-scale gatherings that were earlier prohibited for much of the pandemic, even though the country is currently faced with an enormous outbreak.

Beijing resident Wu Yanxia, 51, said, “There are still some worries, more or less.” Currently working at a logistic company, Yanxia added, “I hope that next year everything will be normal, such as domestic travel.”

Others have their hopes pinned on 2023 that it will bring better things after a difficult past year.

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“We have experienced a very uneven year, particularly unforgettable, with many things out of our imagination,” said Beijing based Li Feng, adding that 2022 was a tough year for both the people and the government.  “But I think we have come through and everything will be fine. All of us will be better in both work and life.”

Multiple studies have proven that the virus spreads through human mobility, indicating that the next variant of the virus may not necessarily emerge from China, and even if it did, it could land in Canada from other indirect routes, Bowman said, suggesting that testing wastewater from airplanes and airports to check for the viral load and mutations would be a more effective measure.

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On Saturday, the Vancouver International Airport said that it would expand its wastewater testing pilot programme.

(With AP inputs)

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