Europe Virus Outbreak

Airport staff wait for passengers coming from China on Sunday, in front of a COVID-19 testing area set at the Roissy Charles de Gaulle airport, north of Paris. Aurelien Morissard/Associated Press

China said it would hit back at nations that placed COVID-19 restrictions on its travelers for “political goals,” showing the coronavirus remains a politically sensitive subject in Beijing even as it lets the virus run rampant.

“We believe that some countries’ entry restrictions targeting only China lack scientific basis and some excessive measures are unacceptable,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said Tuesday at a regular press briefing in Beijing.

“We firmly oppose attempts to manipulate COVID prevention and control measures to achieve political goals, and China will take corresponding measures based on the principle of reciprocity in different situations,” she said, without naming any individual countries. She added that China was ready to “strengthen communication with the international community and work together to defeat COVID.”

The U.S., Japan and some other countries are requiring travelers from China to show a negative test before allowing them to enter, and Taiwan has said it will quarantine positive cases. The tightening measures come as China disbands its strict “COVID-zero” strategy after nearly three years – one that made entering the Asian nation very difficult because it required all arrivals to isolate for days in hotels or camps.

A deluge of cases, combined with a lack of information from the Chinese government about how many people are sick or dying, has raised concern over the possibility that new strains of the virus will emerge.

Italy said it would begin testing all arrivals from China after almost half of the passengers on two recent flights to Milan were found to have the virus. The European nation later said it didn’t find any new concerning COVID-19 mutations among the arrivals from China who tested positive.

COVID-19 has been a politically sensitive topic in China since first appeared in the nation some three years ago. Former President Donald Trump angered Beijing by repeatedly referring to the “China virus,” prompting China’s diplomats to spread the conspiracy theory that the virus may have originated in U.S. bioweapons labs.

In April 2020, former Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison upset China by calling for an international investigation into the origins of COVID-19. Beijing later placed trade sanctions on a number of Australian exports, including wine, barley and meat.

A visit to Beijing last month by Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong has helped thaw relations with China, though trade barriers remain in place.

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