The Center of Disease Control and Prevention enacted a new requirement that asks passengers traveling to the United States from China, including special administrative regions, Hong Kong and Macau, to provide "proof of a negative COVID test" or "documentation of recovery from COVID-19."
The CDC said this mandate is a way to slow the spread of COVID in the U.S. as a response to the current surge of cases in China because of the "lack of adequate and transparent epidemiological and viral genomic sequence data" from the Chinese government. Although it looks like it’s for the sake of public health, something is telling me that this feels odd.
What’s going on in China right now
The country is now facing a series of problems and changes ever since the lift of the three-year-long zero-COVID policy: medicines are either out of stock or overpriced, hospitals are at capacity and front-line workers are overworked despite some having COVID themselves. But on top of all this, daily updates on positive cases are no longer available as data is being censored.
What the new CDC policy says
The policy states that passengers older than 2 years of age traveling from China — including special administrative regions, Hong Kong and Macau; Incheon International Airport (ICN) of Seoul in Republic of Korea; Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ) in Canada; and Vancouver International Airport (YVR) in Canada — need to provide a negative “COVID-19 viral test no more than two days before your flight.”
Those who have recently recovered from COVID-19 need to provide a “positive COVID-19 viral test result on a sample taken more than 10 days but fewer than 91 days before your flight” or “positive COVID-19 viral test result on a sample taken 10 or fewer days before your flight plus a letter from a licensed healthcare provider or a public health official stating that your COVID-19 symptoms started more than 10 days before your flight.”
What I’m wondering
I can’t help but think that this requirement specifically singles out people traveling from China including special administrative regions, Hong Kong and Macau.
Technically, South Korea and Canada are also impacted by this new policy. Yet, only passengers traveling from designated airports of South Korea and Canada are restricted. It’s not like the two countries only have those international airports. But for China, almost the entire country is restricted.
As of Jan. 28, 2023, the XBB.1.5 variant consists of 61.3% of positive cases in the U.S. Compared to when the policy was first enacted, the data for the week ending on Jan. 14. 2023, the XBB.1.5 variant consists of 37.5% of positive cases. So is the policy really working?
According to Al Jazeera, there isn’t much evidence that supports travel curbs — like this one from the CDC — will make a big difference in mitigating the spread of COVID. Infection rates aren’t going to be combated with just a single policy. There’s a metaphor for this called the Swiss Cheese model, which presents that every policy has its holes, but if combined together the flaws can be covered up.
If the CDC really does want to prevent the spread of XBB, why aren't there domestic policies in place at this time? Since 2022, we have fully resumed life back to normal: in most spaces there are no mask mandates, no social distancing and some places don’t even require proof of vaccination anymore. To contain the infection rates, maybe more could be done, like requiring negative tests for domestic travel as well and reinstating masks indoors.
What’s my biggest concern
When I saw the CDC’s announcement about the policy, I was immediately alarmed because the public statement released by the CDC might again escalate Sinophobia in the U.S. And as someone who identifies as Chinese, it hurts to think that my community could have a bigger target on our backs.
Of course, I still want to give the policy a benefit of the doubt. But based on the events happening in the past few years, it’s hard to believe the intentions around the new policy is purely about public health.
Given the surge in COVID cases, it’s upsetting that my biggest concern right now is not the virus, but people and their biases. Because it’s people who’ve escalated the fear and hatred toward Chinese folks — and Asian community at large — that will cost us so much.
If the CDC’s new policy is really the case of discrimination, what’s the difference between health experts treating the virus through a colored lens in the name of protecting public health than Trump viciously naming it the “Chinese virus?” Perhaps, the former is even worse?