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Consequences of lack of transparency

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On Jan. 26, 2022, we wrote this in our column, entitled, “No End in Sight”: “On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Novel Coronavirus outbreak a pandemic and reiterated the call for countries to take immediate actions and scale up their response to treat, detect, and reduce transmission to save people’s lives, per official resources. That was from a regular bulletin issued by WHO almost two years ago (at the time we wrote the column).

“While the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, 2020, some 45 days short of its second anniversary on March 11, 2022, online newsletter Inside History (IH) states that the virus which would spark a pandemic was first reported in (Wuhan) China on Dec. 31, 2019. Halfway across the world, on Jan. 19, 2020, a man who had returned home to Snohomish County, Washington state near Seattle on Jan. 15 after traveling to Wuhan, checked into an urgent care clinic after seeing reports about the outbreak.

“The IH report states that, “experiencing a cough, fever, nausea and vomiting, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced on Jan. 21 that the 36-year-old had tested positive for COVID-19. He was hospitalized, where his condition grew worse and he developed pneumonia. His symptoms abated 10 days later. A nonsmoker, the man had visited family in Wuhan.”

As we start 2023, and after almost three years of what The Economist calls, “self-imposed isolation,” the paper explains the situation thus: “…China is opening up again. The domestic travel restrictions, mass-testing requirements and draconian lockdowns of the ‘Zero-COVID’ policy were scrapped in early December (2022).”

Reports indicate that on Jan. 8, China will reopen its borders too. In a surprising move that smacks of spiting liberal democracies and local protesters who demonstrated violently against Zero-COVID, people arriving from abroad will no longer be required to quarantine upon arrival in China. As if to show the world that it was back in business and continues to be very involved in the world economy, more flights will be allowed. As expected, visas will be given to business travelers and students. Curiously, tourist visas are not yet to be granted. To top it off, in a society where freedom to travel is not a right, as it is in democracies, Chinese will be allowed to travel overseas without having to explain to government the purpose of travel. One gets the impression that the Chinese are saying, “We don’t have a COVID problem (as the West and the rest of the world and the World Health Organization, or WHO, define it) and so we allow our nationals to freely travel. If they happen to have COVID (as you guys define it), that’s your problem.”

But the rest of the world do not agree with the Chinese “viewpoint.” The US, the world’s biggest economy, is the latest country and territory (after Japan, India, Italy, Taiwan, and other countries), to require COVID testing on visitors from China after Xi Jinping’s regime announced the reopening of the country.

On Wednesday, Dec. 28, the US said that the lack of “adequate and transparent” COVID data in China had contributed to the decision to require COVID tests from Jan. 5 (today) for travelers entering the country from China, Hong Kong, and Macau, according to bbc.com.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said this was needed “to help slow the spread of the virus as we work to identify …any potential new variants that may emerge.”

The Biden administration, with eyes on 2024, is expected to come down hard on this issue, knowing fully well that COVID and its mishandling sent the Trump gang scurrying in defeat in different directions like the proverbial headless chickens. Then-candidate Joe Biden realized the impact that COVID would have on the US economy and the presidential elections of 2020 and studiously analyzed the technical aspects of the pandemic with the aid of experts and epidemiologists. He spent hours in his Delaware home going over voluminous detailed briefings while campaigning online. In contrast, Trump, who regarded COVID as a non-political issue and more of a nuisance, went around all over the country ignoring both the US government’s own CDC and other experts’ advice and sarcastically announcing that “Biden was holed up in his Delaware basement.”

Geopolitically, these requirements on Chinese travelers and limits on Chinese nationals’ and businesses’ movements is another tool that the US will most likely utilize to discourage China from providing any kind of aid to Russia. The Kremlin has been assiduously courting the Chinese to form some kind of alliance against the West in the war which Putin has declared.

So far, China has been non-committal and pragmatic although Xi Jinping has agreed to visit Moscow in the spring. One can understand the cautious, sigurista approach of China. They are more active in world economic affairs than in the floundering and battered Russian economy. They’re bound to sustain more economic damage if they support the Russian invasion. Militarily, Russia has nothing to add value to the Chinese military arsenal in case the latter wishes to mimic Russia’s Ukraine invasion with a Taiwan land grab. The former’s conventional armed forces have just suffered an embarrassing defeat at the hands of the Ukraine forces and its arsenal has been neutralized to some respectable degree by Ukraine. Xi Jinping is just diplomatically returning the favor granted by Putin for the imports by China of Russian natural gas at a 50% discount over a defined period.

The response of the international community to the Dec. 24, 2022 announcement to end quarantine for arrivals and effectively reopening travel in and out of the county for the first time since March 2020, has been almost uniform.

In Japan, travelers from China will be tested for COVID upon arrival. Those who test positive will have to quarantine for up to seven days.

In India, bbc.com reports that people traveling from China must produce a negative COVID test before arriving.

In Italy — one of the hardest hit countries in 2020 by the pandemic owing to the great number of travelers from China to Milan — mandatory COVID testing on travelers from China has been imposed. The Italians learned their lesson but at a heavy and painful cost.

In the UK, the BBC reported that the government was set to announce a new arrival policy requiring a negative COVID-19 test for all arrivals from China.

As we start 2023, while we look with renewed hope for world peace and stability, it appears that a number of developments bear watching for how they will impact inflation, energy prices, climate change, income inequality, and the rule of law in the world and in individual countries.

A joyous 2023 to all!

Philip Ella Juico’s areas of interest include the protection and promotion of democracy, free markets, sustainable development, social responsibility and sports as a tool for social development. He obtained his doctorate in business at De La Salle University. Dr. Juico served as secretary of Agrarian Reform during the Corazon C. Aquino administration.

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