China to monitor travelers at borders for new COVID-19 variant

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China will monitor travelers into the country at some border-crossings for infections of a new COVID-19 variant, and will allow local governments to reimpose mobility curbs on residents to prevent outbreaks after the country reopens its borders Sunday.

A selected group of cities and harbors have been asked to send test samples of infected travelers for genome sequencing at the National Institute for Viral Disease Control and Prevention, according to an updated COVID control plan released on Saturday.

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The country is set to reopen its borders after reversing its Covid Zero policy in December. The government has reduced quarantine for travelers, who under new guidelines can enter with a negative COVID test result taken within 48 hours of departure.

China has yet set timeline for ending the pre-travel testing requirement and said it will urge custom officials to test goods being exported to ease concerns of transmissions through international shipments, healthcare official Liang Wannian told ambassadors and diplomats from 130 countries at a Friday briefing.

The Health Commission reiterated on Saturday that it will urge local governments to refrain from taking extreme lockdown measures over Covid, but mobility curbs can be reimposed to prevent massive outbreaks, it said.

Local governments can order their schools to go online, impose work-from-home rules, cancel unnecessary public events and close entertainment venues in cases of emergency.

The commission pledged increased efforts to monitor conditions in care homes to protect the more vulnerable elderly residents. People aged 60 and over are encouraged to get second booster vaccinations.

China’s total confirmed death toll from COVID-19 rose to almost 17,500, but there are concerns that the numbers are underreported after the government adopted a much narrower definition for deaths from the virus. Authorities reported 854 new severe cases on Friday.

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