Coronavirus: UK to impose screening on travellers from China

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Chinese President Xi Jinping has sparked panic across the world as a lethal wave of Covid appears to be sweeping across China, but Beijing is denying that the lifting of the tough ‘Zero-Covid’ policy is to blame for an explosion of cases. While China’s official tally is about 5,000 cases a day and 12 deaths during December, reports and videos showing bodies piling up at morgues suggest the country is grappling with a wave far larger than the Chinese state wants the rest of the world to believe.

Now, Britain, the US, Italy, India, Israel, Spain, Canada, South Korea, and France are all slapping down some form of restrictions on air travel from China to prevent the spread of the disease.

While President Xi argued that his policy “prioritised the people and their lives above all else,” the leader was forced to lift restrictions following an intense wave of protests from large swathes of the public. Experts have warned that the sudden lifting of restrictions will spark an “enormous” Covid wave.

Andrew Pollard, the chair of the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization, told BBC News Hour on Saturday: “I think we should be concerned about what’s happening in China — for the Chinese.

“Within the country, there is a large amount of Covid spreading at the moment, the omicron variant is there, and it spreads extremely well between people. And they haven’t had Covid waves before … so we would expect an enormous number of infections to occur.”

Despite this, China claims that western countries are simply creating “hype, smears and political manipulation with ulterior motives”, accusing them of exaggerating the extent of the Covid wave.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin has urged countries to take a “science-based” approach. The authorities in the nation have said that the only deaths caused by respiratory failure directly linked to Covid are being counted.

But this does not include the huge amount of people that die as Covid causes heart or liver failure or that the illness can make other underlying diseases worse.

Estimates from medical analyst firm Airfinity suggest that about 9,000 people in China are dying each day, contrary to the messaging from Beijing, which claims only 5,000 cases a day and 12 deaths during December.

Last week, the head of the World Health Organisation, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, demanded greater transparency from China. He tweeted: “In the absence of comprehensive information from China, it is understandable that countries around the world are acting in ways that they believe will protect their populations.”

Despite this, China appears to now be downplaying the threat of the virus in a major shift from the Chinese Communist Party’s original messaging following the mass protests presented the biggest test President Xi has faced.

Rather than admitting “zero-Covid” was a mistake, it has appeared to vanish from state propaganda. Prior to the protests, President Xi’s Government did announce a 20-point plan to ease the tough restrictions.

But this approach was abandoned, and along with it the former messaging around the threat of the virus. However, Beijing is not completely denying that there is a “tough” situation unravelling.

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President Xi said in a nationally televised New Year’s Eve speech: “We have now entered a new phase of Covid response where tough challenges remain.

“Everyone is holding on with great fortitude, and the light of hope is right in front of us. Let’s make an extra effort to pull through, as perseverance and solidarity mean victory.”

The Chinese Government has also launched a booster campaign for the elderly, but there are still high levels of vaccine hesitancy due to concerns about side effects.

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