Quaratine protocols intensify amid dramatic surge of COVID in China

Health officials on Friday said they would intensify quarantine protocols in handling travelers from China as COVID-19 cases there continue to surge.

In a statement, the Department of Health (DOH) said it has ordered the Bureau of Quarantine to heighten surveillance of all respiratory symptoms in travelers coming from China.

Infected and symptomatic passengers should be reported during arrival, it said.

The DOH issued the statement after President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. suggested requiring travelers from China to be tested for COVID-19.

The DOH said the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) was discussing last night the guidelines on border control for travelers from China.

“The IATF will discuss on the guidelines on how to deal with the COVID-19 resurgence in China, including our border control for Chinese travelers to the country, for recommendation and approval of the President,” the department said.

Currently, foreign travelers who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 are required to present a negative pre-departure antigen or RT-PCR test results before travel or upon arrival.

In response to the surging cases in China, Spain, South Korea, the United States, Italy, Japan, India, and Malaysia have recently announced that they would increase health measures for travelers from China.

The lack of transparent data from China—particularly about viral genomic sequencing—is making it “increasingly difficult for public health officials to ensure that they will be able to identify any potential new variants and take prompt measures to reduce the spread,” US officials said Tuesday.

India and Japan have already said they will impose mandatory PCR testing on all passengers from China.

Spain’s health minister on Friday said passengers arriving from China would be screened for COVID-19.

Travelers from China will have to show “proof that they are negative… or a full vaccination list,” Health Minister Carolina Darias told a press conference.

Coronavirus infections have surged in China, overwhelming hospitals as it unwinds hardline controls that torpedoed the economy and sparked nationwide protests.

A growing number of countries, including the United States, have imposed restrictions on all visitors from mainland China after Beijing decided to end mandatory quarantine on arrival, prompting many jubilant Chinese to make plans to travel abroad.

But the European Union’s health agency said Thursday that such restrictions weren’t warranted in the bloc.

Chinese citizens have been largely confined to their country since Beijing pulled up the drawbridge in March 2020.

South Korea took steps on Friday to limit travelers from mainland China, imposing visa restrictions and testing requirements and limiting flights as Beijing grapples with a surge in COVID-19 infections.

Seoul’s decision comes after other countries announced their own measures, which they say are a bid to avoid importing new coronavirus variants from China.

“Until February next year, those entering (South Korea) from China will be required to undergo a COVID test before and after their arrivals,” Seoul’s Prime Minister Han Duck-soo said Friday.

Travelers from China must provide a negative PCR test taken within 48 hours before boarding a plane to South Korea, or a negative antigen test within 24 hours before departure.

They will also be required to undergo a PCR test within the first day of their arrival, Han said.

South Korea will also restrict the issuing of short-term visas to Chinese nationals, excluding public officials, diplomats, and those with crucial humanitarian and business purposes, until the end of January next year.

Seoul is scaling back the number of flights from China and all flights from the country will now have to land only at South Korea’s main Incheon International Airport, Han added.

South Korea’s southernmost Jeju Island, which has its own international airport and separate visa entry regime, was a popular tourist destination for Chinese arrivals before the pandemic.

On Thursday, the DOH reported two cases of the Omicron subvariant BN.1.

The BN.1, a sublineage of BA.2.75, is considered a “variant under monitoring” by the European Center for Disease Control, the DOH said.

“The variant was initially flagged by the researchers due to its increasing prevalence and mutations that may lead to enhanced immune evasion,” the DOH’s latest bio-surveillance report released Thursday said.

“However, currently available evidence for BN.1 does not suggest any differences in disease severity and/or clinical manifestations compared to the original omicron variant,” the DOH added.

The DOH said the Omicron strain is still being reported under BA.2.75 by the World Health Organization.

The country has also recorded 342 additional cases of Omicron subvariants, the latest DOH report showed.

The samples were sequenced by the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine and the University of the Philippines – Philippine Genome Center.

While previous “variants of concern” like Alpha and Delta eventually petered out, Omicron and its sub-lineages have dominated throughout 2022.

All Omicron variants tend to have a milder disease course as they settle less in the lungs and more in the upper nasal passages, causing symptoms like fever, tiredness, and loss of smell.

The Philippines aims to have bivalent vaccines that target the newer Omicron variants and the original form of the virus available by the first quarter of 2023. With AFP