Australians are divided over the Government’s decision to introduce mandatory Covid testing for travellers from China as the nation’s virus crisis explodes.
Chinese President Xi Jinping recently announced an abrupt end to many Covid restrictions after years of a draconian zero-Covid strategy.
Almost immediately, cases began to spread with astonishing speed, with reports emerging that hospitals and morgues were being overwhelmed with the dead and critically ill.
However, the official numbers of cases and deaths coming out of China have been suspiciously low, sparking allegations of a cover-up.
As a result of the escalating health crisis – which some experts predict could cause up to two million deaths in China within three months – there had been growing calls for restrictions on Chinese travellers, or even a temporary ban.
And on New Year’s Day, the government responded, with Health Minister Mark Butler announcing that Australia had decided to follow the position of countries across Asia, North America and Europe by introducing measures amid the “absence of comprehensive information about the situation in China”.
Health Minister Mark Butler announced the change on Sunday. Picture: NCA NewsWire/David Mariuz
“The Australian Government shares the concerns expressed by a number of governments and particularly the World Health Organisation,” he said.
“Out of an abundance of caution, travellers from China will need to provide a negative test before their flight.
“The World Health Organisation has described such measures as understandable.”
However, the mandatory testing of travellers from China has already proved to be controversial.
Mark Butler’s tweet announcing the new rule sparked a fiery debate among Twitter users, with many questioning why it applied to China only, especially given a dangerous new strain, XBB15, was currently ripping through the US and UK, while the dominant strain in China is Omicron subvariant BF. 7 – which has been present in Australia for several months already.
Many have labelled the move “racist” and demanded that all incoming travellers be tested, instead of singling out Chinese passengers.
The first measure Labor introduces to manage Covid transmission is based on race. It completely ignores the more virulent, immune evasive strains in the US.
— Kiwi Prole ðŸ’‰ðŸ’‰ðŸ’‰ðŸ’‰ðŸ˜· 20398 cases & 46 deaths: Vic (@annect64) January 1, 2023
@JulianHillMP Classic Labor…. ineffective racist Policies have always been the staple… nice to see nothing changes after a decade in opposition… do you know if labor has any intention of addressing covid… they certainly made a song and dance of it
— WyvernsroseðŸ²ðŸ‰ðŸ”ðŸ£ðŸˆâ€â¬› (@wyvernsrose) January 1, 2023
Others also described the move as “pointless” and one that made “zero sense” while Australia was facing high rates of transmission locally and while variants of concern where emerging in several locations.
Many also argued that it was too little, too late, while some claimed testing 48 hours before departure meant little when a person could easily become infected in the two days after being tested and before flying.
Among the more high-profile critics was former deputy chief medical officer Dr Nick Coatsworth, who claimed it could threaten Australia’s relations with China while achieving little.
Passengers wait in line to check their Covid-19 vaccination documents after arriving in France, which has joined a growing list of countries imposing restrictions upon travellers from China. Picture: Julien de Rosa/AFP
“Why put all the effort improving China relations at risk by imposing testing on inbound travellers, given it is unlikely to impact Covid-19 control in Australia?” he posted on Twitter.
“At some point an ‘abundance of caution’ becomes an ‘excess of caution’ or ‘a silly application of caution’.”
His comments also sparked a fiery debate among Twitter users, with many hitting out at accusations that the new rule was “racist” against China and insisting that Australia had little choice but to try and protect its citizens.
Australia’s decision to impose mandatory pre-departure testing will begin from 12.01am on January 5, requiring a negative test within 48 hours.
Other measures will be introduced at home, including increased wastewater testing, volunteer sampling, and increased surveillance of people who have tested positive within the last 14 days.
China has pledged to fully reopen its borders on January 8 despite the “very significant” Covid wave.
Speaking on Sunrise on Monday morning, Mr Butler defended the move.
“The key driver of this decision is what the World Health Organisation has described as an absence of comprehensive information about what is a very fast moving situation in China,” Mr Butler said.
“We think this is a balanced decision, a modest decision.
“We know what is happening in China is a very serious Covid wave. What we are concerned about and what the World Health Organisation described over the last 48 hours is an absence of information.”
What caused China’s crisis
China’s current situation is radically different from the wider world’s because it remained completely cut off and isolated for so long, and because of the country’s low vaccination rates, especially among the elderly, with around 130 million older people failing to receive their third booster dose.
‘Fast-moving’: Reason for new Covid ruleTravellers face new Covid restriction
China’s reliance on its own vaccines, which have been proven to be less effective at preventing serious illness and death than mRNA jabs used across the world, have also added to the current anxiety being felt, leaving the population with low levels of immunity.
Patients with Covid-19 lay in beds at Tangshan Gongren Hospital as case numbers explode. Picture: Noel Celis/AFP
As a result, experts have predicted up to two million out of China’s total population of 1.4 billion could lose their lives in the months ahead, with many fearing that it could also threaten the wider world as a potential new variant of concern could emerge that might be “more deadly” than previous strains.
Read related topics:China