On November 6, China debuted a new travel testing policy. Before, incoming airline passengers had to submit results for a conventional PCR test that proved the absence of Covid-19 and, upon landing, head to a predetermined location for a mandatory 14-day quarantine. Now, another item has joined the list: a negative IgM antibody test result.
The policy is the first of its kind and has experts puzzled. One physician, in conversation with the New York Times, mused it might be “security theater.” Another called it a “huge inconvenience” for a measure of “minimal value.” But my best guess is that the Chinese government has information on the long-term consequences of infection that we don’t.
The onus of pandemic control in China, we must keep in mind, is drastically different from the United States and Europe. With only 925 new cases and three deaths reported in the past month, China—a country of nearly 1.4 billion people—has come so close to containing Covid-19 that not one infection can be overlooked. A single new case can be enough to trigger a barrage of testing (by the millions), rippling economic losses and disruption, and citywide shutdowns. Now that most of China’s outbreaks originate outside national borders, either from shipments of frozen foods or travelers returning from overseas, shoring up points of entry is the obvious move.
Originally published in Forbes (November 18, 2020)