Beijing plans to maintain its pandemic border restrictions for at least a year as officials worry about the emergence of new variants and a sensitive schedule of events, people familiar with the matter say despite a vaccination campaign against coronaviruses which has exceeded one billion doser.
The tentative schedule for the second half of 2022 was set at a meeting in mid-May of the country’s cabinet, or Council of State, attended by officials from China’s Foreign Ministry and the National Commission. health, among other government bodies, said one of the people.
By largely limiting new visas to those who have received a Chinese vaccine and maintaining the forced hotel quarantine requirements of at least 14 days on arrival, Chinese authorities have sought to neutralize risks from imported cases, said the inhabitants.
After the first explosion of the coronavirus in the central city of Wuhan last year, Chinese authorities initially condemned countries such as the United States which imposed restrictions on travel to and from China.
But as China has contained the virus within its borders and the situation has worsened abroad, Beijing has been among the most demanding in maintaining border controls. The country is aggressively quelling outbreaks as they arise through a combination of targeted lockdowns, mass testing and centralized quarantines.
In recent weeks, China has stepped up its initially slow vaccination campaign. Authorities said on Sunday he had passed one billion shots. As of June 10, Our World in Data reported that 16% of the country’s population had been fully immunized.
Vaccinations will likely slow to around 10 million doses per day in early August, from a peak of 20 million doses in early June, as injections reach more remote places. By December, 80% of the Chinese population will have received at least one dose, Goldman Sachs economists told customers in a June 6 memo.
If China eases restrictions, it will likely first be travel between the mainland and Hong Kong and Macau, the two special administrative regions that border southern Guangdong province, according to the population.
Hong Kong and Macao have gone through weeks without any local infections, although Guangdong has battled a spate of cases over the past month, making any short-term lifting of restrictions unlikely.
China would then relax requirements on countries with high vaccination rates and which have brought the number of infections under control, according to the population. Countries that recognize Chinese vaccines will most likely be considered first, the people said, adding that there was no timeline for any easing.
The Chinese State Council, the Foreign Ministry and the National Health Commission did not respond to requests for comment.
China has not approved any Western vaccines listed by the World Health Organization for emergency use, although the Wall Street Journal reported in April that Beijing plans to approve the vaccine developed by Germany’s BioNTech SE by July. US regulators have not approved any Chinese vaccines.
Earlier this month, Feng Zijian, the former deputy director of the China Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told a conference that now is the time to move from a zero Covid-19 strategy to a with more open borders would depend largely on a high level of immunization rates and a consensus on whether certain deaths are acceptable for the whole of society.
Countries like Britain and Chile have some of the highest vaccination rates in the world, but are still battling outbreaks of infection largely among the unvaccinated population, delaying plans to ease lockdowns.
Additionally, clinical data indicate that Chinese vaccines, while capable of protecting against severe cases and hospitalization, are less effective in reducing transmission.
“This could allow the virus to continue to replicate, leading to epidemics among the unvaccinated population or mutations against which current vaccines are not effective,” said Jin Dong-Yan, professor of molecular virology at the University of Hong Kong.
Chinese health officials said vaccines developed by China have been shown to be effective against current variants, including the more infectious Delta variant, which was first detected in India. They said that although fully vaccinated people were infected, they did not become seriously ill and that the vaccines were being tested against the new strains.
The Chinese CDC said it was studying the effectiveness of additional doses, including booster shots with its nationally-developed vaccines as well as BioNTech, which uses a different technology, according to a person familiar with the matter.
China is not the only country waiting to open its borders. In May, Australia announced that it would tentatively begin the process in mid-2022.
Organizers of the Beijing Olympics, which are due to start on February 4, did not say whether foreign spectators would be allowed into the country. The organizers of next month’s Summer Games in Tokyo allow Japanese spectators and refuse foreigners.
While China’s strict border controls have pushed back the virus, allowing the national economy to recover, “the reality of persistent epidemics and lingering restrictions is leveling off how far this recovery can go,” Cui Ernan said, analyst at the research firm Gavekal. Dragonomic.
It will also mean that international businesses in China will have had to operate impaired for over a year, with foreign executives stranded abroad and face-to-face meetings nearly impossible, said Alan Beebe, Speaker of the House. of American trade. in China.
—Raffaele Huang in Beijing contributed to this article.
Write to Keith Zhai à [email protected] and Sha Hua at [email protected]
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