China has already announced through some of its embassies that it would specifically facilitate visas for those who had received a Chinese-made COVID-19 vaccine (negative COVID-19 tests and quarantines are still requirements).
This will affect Indian students waiting to return to China, as well as hundreds of thousands of expatriate workers, students, and family members currently stranded in Australia, Greece, Indonesia, Pakistan, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
What if no Chinese Covid-19 vaccine is available where they are?
At China’s Borders, “Vaccine Passports” Just Got Real
In announcing it would prioritize travelers who had received Chinese-made vaccines, Beijing sparked outrage in countries where those aren’t available.
BY RAJNI GEORGE | MARCH 25, 2021, 4:09 PM
The idea of vaccine passports to reopen travel after the pandemic has been kicking around since nearly the beginning of COVID-19’s spread. But on March 15, China added a new wrinkle to the discussion, when it announced, through embassies in about 20 countries, that it would specifically facilitate visas for those who had received a Chinese-made COVID-19 vaccine (negative COVID-19 tests and quarantines are still requirements).
This move, coming on top of other ongoing COVID-19 travel restrictions, has caused particular alarm in countries like India, where the Chinese vaccine is not available. Hundreds of thousands of expatriate workers, students, and family members currently stranded in Australia, Greece, Indonesia, Pakistan, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States are in the same boat.
“If the China government can accept [World Health Organization]-assessed vaccines, it’ll be helpful to the resuming of air travel,” said a 30-year-old Indian professional who is still trying to return to his job in the automotive industry in Shanghai and requested anonymity. Fourteen months after he returned to India, his visa and invitation letter expired. Like many, he’s had a pay cut; however, he is better off than some friends who are not being paid at all since they cannot report to work back in China. Now, expatriate workers like him are considering whether to access the China vaccine through a third country like the United Arab Emirates. That would be expensive and time-consuming but perhaps necessary.
Although the World Health Organization has approved the AstraZeneca, Moderna, and Pfizer vaccines, it has yet to approve a single Chinese formulation. This is widely attributed to China’s lack of transparency around its clinical trial data and its reported efficacy rates as low as 50 percent in Brazil, where the vaccines are being used. Although China has self-reported results closer to 80 percent, the UAE is even offering third doses of China-made vaccines to help boost the shot’s desired immune response.
Fears about the vaccine aside, some expatriates can’t afford to say no to it. One student in Afghanistan seemed especially defeated, writing on Twitter, “We are ready to follow any rules just to go back to China and continue our studies and make our career.” A 23-year-old Indian medical student who has been unable to attend classes at Jilin Medical University in China for 14 months vented his frustration too. “We are getting just some [PowerPoints] and recorded video lectures. We don’t have live classes,” he wrote me this month. “Can you go to a doctor who graduated online who doesn’t have any practical knowledge?”
In India, there are more than 23,000 people like him—people who were attending medical school in China, went home early last year because of the pandemic, and haven’t been able to return. Around the world, there are many more. On March 22, the China International Students Union—@takeusbacktoCHN on Twitter and @takeusbacktochina on Instagram—posted a letter on behalf of an estimated hundreds of thousands globally…
The question is: Why is China refusing to acknowledge the other vaccines? It may be a way of pressuring countries to offer China-made vaccines. Some experts like Nicholas Thomas, associate professor of health security at the City University of Hong Kong, told Fortune last week that “China wants to ensure that Chinese vaccines remain the preferred choice.”
Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian, at a media briefing in Beijing last week, put the new prerequisite down to the desire to protect the public. “It is not linked to the recognition of Chinese vaccines,” he said. On March 24, another spokesperson, Hua Chunying, addressed the global outcry, among other things, at a press conference. She said that “providing convenience to those inoculated with Chinese vaccines does not affect the existing policy for those inbound personnel who are not inoculated with Chinese vaccines.” In other words, it will offer priority to those with Chinese vaccines now, though it is yet to be seen how decisions will be made in practice.
China is making swift advances in the vaccine game. It has donated 8.3 million doses and has administered 65 million vaccines at home. It has pledged half a billion more doses to other countries, trying to promote its vaccine in the majority of the world’s countries. More than 60 countries have now authorized China’s vaccines despite their lack of transparent efficacy and safety data.
Fast track to a visa: Taking China’s vaccines
|Chinese embassies in a growing number of countries, including the U.S., have begun requiring that foreigners entering China must first be fully inoculated with a Chinese-made coronavirus vaccine if they want to avoid extensive paperwork requirements.|
|That rule may make the visa process difficult for people in countries like the U.S. and most nations in Europe, where no Chinese-made vaccines have been approved for use.|
|The move puts diplomatic pressure on other countries to give regulatory approval to Chinese vaccines. Beijing has not allowed vaccines developed in other countries to be produced or administered in China.|
|Details: The rules, which enable visitors to bypass strict requirements like a negative nucleic acid test, detailed health and travel records, and a government agency invitation, currently apply to visitors from Hong Kong, Britain, Japan, Norway, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand, the United States, Vietnam and at least a dozen other countries.|