Why is a 'double negative test' needed before traveling to China?

As COVID-19 cases rebound sharply from North America to Europe, Chinese embassies in several countries including Russia, U.S. and UK, are now requiring Chinese and foreign passengers flying to China to present the negative result of serum IgM antibody, in addition to the usual negative result of the nucleic acid test, within 48 hours of boarding.

Social media platforms are abuzz with debates on the move. Many netizens temporarily stranded overseas said it would make the already difficult way home even harder. But why is a "double negative test" needed before traveling to China? Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin answered relevant questions on November 6.

Wang said as the pandemic worsens overseas, China is facing greater risks of infection cases from overseas. In October, the number of cases from overseas stood at 515, up by 45 percent from September. 

"Under such circumstances, we have drawn upon other countries' practices and further strengthened pre-departure prevention and control measures for travelers coming to China. This helps not only preserve the hard-won epidemic containment results in China but also minimize the risk of cross-infection during the travel and safeguard people's health and security," he added.

Wang said the pre-departure nucleic acid testing for China-bound travelers has been essential in preventing epidemic importation. However, none of the existing test methods can be 100 percent accurate at the moment. According to the competent authorities, IgM antibody test results are stable, and the passengers' test results can be a lot more accurate if the two tests are combined.

"That's why we now need IgM anti-body testing, too. We tried this in some countries earlier, and the effect was good. As I know, similar measures have been taken by some other countries, too," he said.

The pandemic situation overseas is very serious, Wang said. Every time a China-bound passenger transits through a place, he or she faces greater risks of infection.

Judging from previous cases detected in China but found to be from overseas, many people who had tested negative before traveling got infected later, with the their number accounting nearly half of the cases from overseas.

Therefore, an additional test in transit is necessary for pandemic containment.

At the same time, if travelers really need to make cross-border trips, they should properly plan their route, choose direct flights whenever possible, and avoid transfers, Wang suggested.

But will this regulation stay for a long time? According to Huanqiu.com commentator Jiang Hai, the aim is to buy more time for the development and use of COVID-19 vaccines and save energy for regular containment efforts. Once the situation improves, it may be a dynamic correction.

Overseas compatriots have made great contributions to China's fight against COVID-19, Jiang added. Given the ongoing spread of the pandemic and the difficult situation of overseas compatriots, all sectors of society in China should show greater concern and care to overseas compatriots, support them in fighting the epidemic on the spot and help them tide over the difficulties, Jiang said.

Chinese embassies and consulates should actively carry out external work to create favorable conditions and provide maximum convenience for overseas compatriots who are in urgent need of returning home to have relevant tests conducted locally. He also urges understanding and patience from overseas compatriots, over those policies and regulations.

(Cover image from CFP)