After years of studying in Australia, Lynn Luo is eager to return to China: she has already booked her return ticket for August.
- From this week, Australians can apply for work or family reunification visas for China
- This is the first time the country has opened its borders to new visa applicants in over two years
- There are different testing requirements for people who have and have not had COVID-19
However, when the 24-year-old international student tested positive for COVID-19 after a getaway with friends in April, she knew she would have to take several more steps before leaving.
From now on, she will have to pass six PCR tests over two months.
Each test can cost up to $120 from private providers, who provide the approved documents required by the Chinese Embassy.
This week the embassy announced changes for overseas travelers meaning Australians can apply for work or family reunification visas for the first time since March 2020.
However, like Ms. Luo, anyone who has ever been infected with COVID-19 – even if it was two years ago – will face a more complicated and expensive process.
Ms Luo said she was “devastated” and thought the rules were “unreasonable”.
“I was a little scared when I was first diagnosed,” she said.
Yet his was a mild case.
“After I recovered, I felt it was just a bad cold,” she said.
“I don’t think people need to spend so much time [doing the tests] once they are healed.”
What has changed for Australians?
China suspended the entry of foreigners at the start of the pandemic.
Visas were only granted for “necessary economic or technological activities”, or for “humanitarian reasons”, such as bereavement or visiting seriously ill relatives.
However, earlier this month, dozens of Chinese embassies – including in the United States, Canada, Indonesia, South Korea and Australia – announced that foreigners can now apply for work visas or visas. family reunions.
Hui Yang, associate professor of preventive medicine and general medicine at Monash University, said the change was a “good development in China’s gradual opening up”.
“Reopening is much more difficult than closing, but it’s inevitable,” Dr Hui said.
Visa applications for tourism and medical care are not yet available.
Quarantine rules are also changing. In Beijing, travelers must self-quarantine at hotels for 10 days, up from 14, and complete an additional week in home quarantine.
Some other cities require a week of hotel quarantine.
What are the rules for traveling to China?
Those who have never tested positive for COVID-19 must complete two PCR tests at different facilities, 48 hours before their trip.
However, that’s a different story for those who have already been infected.
Entry requirements for passengers bound for China have also changed in recent months.
Since April 1 this year, the number of PCR tests for previously infected people entering China from Australia has increased from two to six, and authorities have also demanded a chest X-ray or CT scan to show that passengers are safe. were “fully recovered”.
The latest rules – which came into force on May 20 – removed the need for a chest X-ray, but the testing regime remains for now.
However, the notice on the Chinese Embassy in Australia’s website did not explain the rationale for six tests, but said the procedure had been updated “based on the current COVID-19 situation and variation of the virus”.
Anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19 in the past must take two initial PCR tests, 24 hours apart, and hand them in to the embassy or consulate six weeks later for examination.
After that, they must then take two more PCR tests and complete a 14-day self-monitoring form on their health.
They must then take two more PCR tests 48 hours before departure, including one on the day of travel.
The whole process takes at least eight weeks and consulates do not accept test results as text messages, leading people like Ms Luo to pay pathology labs for the results.
However, the scientific basis of the regulations has been questioned by some experts.
“The six-week wait after the first two negative PCR tests makes no sense,” Dr Michael Toole, an epidemiologist at the Burnet Institute, told the ABC.
“If the PCR is negative, the person is not contagious.”
He said it might, however, be wise to insist on 14 days of quarantine after a COVID-19 infection, with one test on day 10, followed by two PCR tests within 48 hours of leaving.
Dr Yang said having different rules for previously infected and never-infected passengers was more of an “administrative regulation” than a “public health management measure based on medical evidence”.
“I believe the COVID-19 regulations will be adjusted and improved over time…to [become] more reasonable and feasible,” he said.
International travelers entering Australia are not required to carry out PCR tests in their country of departure.
The ABC contacted the Chinese Embassy in Australia and the Consulate General in Melbourne and Sydney for comment, but received no response.
“We are ostracized like a virus”
Apart from the cumbersome testing process, some previously infected people in China have also reportedly faced social discrimination.
In May, a Chinese blogger went viral after posting a video saying she had been fired as a Russian teacher for an administrative position due to her history of COVID-19 infection.
“We defeated the virus but we are ostracized as the virus,” she said in the video.
“I hope society will be more tolerant and understanding of people who have already been infected with COVID-19.”
Human Rights Watch researcher Yaqiu Wang told the ABC that social discrimination against people previously infected with COVID-19 has been “long-standing” in China.
“Any practice of treating them differently without a scientific basis is considered discrimination,” she said.
“There is a common fear of people with a history of infection in China because scientific knowledge is not widely disseminated and accepted.”
Sydney resident Becky Xu tested positive for COVID-19 in January and traveled to China in May to visit family.
When she began the process of arranging her flight to China, only two PCR tests and a lung scan were needed.
Ms. Xu said that if she worked in China, she would not disclose her infection history, to avoid possible unfair treatment.
Ms Luo said she would also likely keep her previous workplace infection a secret in China.
“They are treating COVID-19 as something terrible and huge, but from my perspective, it’s actually OK,” she said.
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