NEW DELHI: Travellers streamed into China by air, land and sea on Sunday as Beijing finally opened borders that have been all but shut since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Starting Sunday, China no longer requires quarantine for arrivals after authorities ditched the policy that, along with the exorbitant cost of air fares amid severe capacity constraints, was a major deterrent for travelers.
Meanwhile, the demand for Indian generic drugs has shot up in China amid the ongoing Covid surge in the country, with Chinese experts cautioning that fake versions of these drugs are flooding the market.
Here are the key developments …
Final farewell to zero-Covid
After three years, mainland China opened sea and land crossings with Hong Kong and ended a requirement for incoming travellers to quarantine, dismantling a final pillar of a zero-Covid policy that had shielded China’s 1.4 billion people from the virus but also cut them off from the rest of the world.
China’s easing over the past month of one of the world’s tightest Covid regimes followed historic protests against a policy that included frequent testing, curbs on movement and mass lockdowns that heavily damaged the second-biggest economy.
Travelers rush to take advantage of China reopening
Long queues formed at the Hong Kong international airport’s check-in counters for flights to mainland cities including Beijing, Tianjin and Xiamen. Hong Kong media outlets estimated that thousands were crossing.
“I’m so happy, so happy, so excited. I haven’t seen my parents for many years,” said Hong Kong resident Teresa Chow as she and dozens of other travellers prepared to cross into mainland China from Hong Kong’s Lok Ma Chau checkpoint.
“My parents are not in good health and I couldn’t go back to see them even when they had colon cancer, so I’m really happy to go back and see them now,” she said.
China welcomes first batch of foreign travellers
Later, the first flights under China’s new “no quarantine” rules for international travellers landed at the airports in Guangzhou and Shenzhen in southern Guangdong province on Sunday morning, the state-run CGTN TV reported.
Officials said 387 passengers were aboard two flights from Toronto and Singapore on the day the country ended its strict Covid-19 restrictions for travellers.
At the Shanghai Pudong International Airport, a man surnamed Jiang, who was the first to complete the immigration procedures, told reporters that: “It is very convenient all the way from exit hatch to border inspection and clearance”.
Indian generic drugs in high demand
The demand for Indian generic drugs has skyrocketed on e-commerce platforms in China due to the massive short supply of Paxlovid.
China’s National Health Security Administration said on Sunday that Pfizer’s Paxlovid oral medication, which is used to treat Covid-19, could not be included in the “register of drugs in the basic medical insurance”, because the company’s quotation was too high, media reports here said.
“On the Chinese e-commerce platforms… At least four generic Covid drugs produced in India – Primovir, Paxista, Molnunat, and Molnatris — have been listed for sale in recent weeks. Primovir and Paxista are both generic versions of Paxlovid, while the other two are generic versions of Molnipiravir,” Chinese media outlet Sixth Tone reported.
All four drugs appear to have been approved for emergency use by the Indian authorities, but are not legal for use in China, it said.
‘India only reliable source’
He Xiaobing, the head of Beijing Memorial Pharmaceutical, told Sixth Tone that India was “the only country where we can source reliable and affordable Covid drugs with guaranteed therapeutic effects”.
“But the strong demand was used by illegal groups who produce counterfeit drugs. This will badly affect patients’ treatment,” he said.
India has been persuading China to permit its pharma products to reduce costs for its citizens and to decrease the massive trade deficit between the two countries.
China calls for monitoring mutated variants
China’s State Council joint prevention and control mechanism against Covid-19 released the 10th edition of the virus prevention and control protocol on Saturday, Global Times reported.
The new plan has stressed on monitoring of mutated variants and early warning as well as the protection of key groups by preventing severe cases.
The new version of the Covid-19 prevention and control plan calls for increased vaccination and self-protection and stresses on enhancing the monitoring of new variants and the use of the national influenza surveillance network.
554 national influenza surveillance sentinel hospitals are needed to conduct influenza-like illness (ILI) and severe acute respiratory infections (SARI) surveillance, as per the national influenza surveillance network, according to the Global Times report.
Concerns over rural areas
China downgraded its Covid management to Category B from A, which had allowed local authorities to quarantine patients and their close contacts and lock down regions.
But concerns remain that the great migration of city workers to their hometowns and reopening of borders may cause a surge in infections in smaller towns and rural areas that are less-equipped with intensive-care beds and ventilators.
The World Health Organisation said on Wednesday that China’s Covid data underrepresents the number of hospitalisations and deaths from the disease.
Chinese officials and state media defended the handling of the outbreak, playing down the severity of the surge and denouncing foreign travel requirements on Chinese residents.
Jiao Yahui, an official from the National Health Commission, said in an interview published by state broadcaster CCTV on Sunday that demand for emergency and critical care in China’s large cities had likely peaked but was rising fast in small and midsize cities and rural areas due to the Lunar New Year travel.
Some 80% of ICU beds in China’s top- and second-tier hospitals were in use, up from 54% on Dec. 25, she said, adding that the country’s medical services to treat Covid were facing an “unprecedented challenge”.
(With inputs from agencies)





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