Leaving infections unchecked will lead to more confusion

If efforts are made to normalize social activities without appropriate infection control measures, the result will only be widespread confusion. Nor will it lead to a quick recovery of the economy. China should take the concerns of the international community seriously.

China has ended its zero-COVID policy. It has eliminated mandatory quarantine upon entering the country, which it had kept in place as a measure against the novel coronavirus. The country said it will also gradually resume overseas travel for its people.

A total of 2.1 billion homecoming or other trips are expected during the long holiday season around the Lunar New Year on Jan. 22. The series of measures very much appears to have been taken hastily in hopes of an economic recovery before being fully considered from every angle.

The problem is that it is no longer possible to ascertain the actual number of infected people since the Chinese government stopped requiring periodic PCR testing. Also, deaths that are due to the worsening of an underlying disease are not counted by Beijing in its coronavirus death toll.

The number of infected people per day nationwide, which the Chinese government makes public as reference information, is well over 10,000 people, with several deaths each day.

However, some regions have announced that tens of millions of people may have been infected. Even domestic experts estimate that the number of infected people will increase in the order of hundreds of millions.

It is not surprising that Western nations are criticizing the lack of information from the Chinese side and urging Beijing to disclose it. The World Health Organization (WHO) is also seeking reliable data on the numbers of deaths and hospitalizations.

When an outbreak occurred in Wuhan about three years ago, China concealed information and was slow to take action, such as imposing restrictions on activities. Even today, people with a history of infection are less likely to be restricted from entering shops and other places, and so a mistaken belief that it is more beneficial to become infected as soon as possible is said to be widespread in Chinese society.

This is the result of policies that disregard scientific findings and information disclosure. If nothing is done, the same mistakes may be repeated. Sharing accurate information on infection is a responsibility shared by all countries. China must cooperate with the WHO to make efforts to identify infected persons and improve its medical system for COVID-19 patients.

In anticipation of an increase in the number of people arriving from China, countries such as the United States, European nations and Japan have announced one measure after another, such as requiring PCR testing and the submission of negative certification at the time of entry. As long as China’s measures lack credibility, such countermeasures are inevitable.

It is not reasonable for the Chinese government to take countermeasures against these countries such as suspending visa issuance, citing “political manipulation.” This may not explain the fact that China imposed stricter immigration restrictions than those of other countries under its zero-COVID policy.

China’s image could be undermined if more Chinese entrants test positive as a result of border control measures taken by other countries. It is the duty of state leaders to send their people abroad only with thorough testing in advance.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 11, 2023)