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Boarding with caution

作者:admin 2020-12-25

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Passengers scan health code at Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport after landing in October. Photo: cnsphoto

Cases of people coming to China with forged
COVID-19 test reports have occasionally happened this year, inconveniencing China's epidemic prevention and control work.

In the face of sporadic imported positive cases, Chinese authorities have recently tightened requirements for passengers flying in from several countries and regions including the US and the UK, where the pandemic remains serious or is worsening.

China's stricter inspection on entrants' COVID-19 test results has to some extent curbed the chaos of falsified test reports, said overseas Chinese and airlines reached by the Global Times this week. 

Previously, the situation caused anxiety and fear among Chinese communities in some countries like Russia and the Philippines.

Many said they were worried about transmitting the virus on a future flight back to China from someone sitting beside who may happen to be a COVID-19 carrier holding a forged test result.

"Fortunately, now I don't see this case happen around me anymore," said a Chinese citizen surnamed Zhou, who lives in London amid the pandemic.

Harder to 'muddle through'

Passengers flying in with fake COVID-19 test reports seem more difficult to muddle through after many overseas Chinese embassies and consulates successively made stricter requirements on their test results.

The Chinese embassy and consulates in the US, for instance, announced last week it would only accept test results from laboratory institutions that are on a list issued by them. IgM serum antibody tests are required to be performed through venous blood sampling only, and nucleic acid test reports must specify the sampling methods, they said.

Fred Wu, who lives in San Francisco, said that local COVID-19 test market was lucrative before the new regulations were made.

While people can register for free tests in the US, it usually takes longer than the 48 hours the Chinese government requires to get the result.

"As a result, many people had to resort to the laboratories opened by Chinese people to take a [faster] test," Wu told the Global Times, saying it cost some $400 three weeks ago and was likely to "continue to rise."

To plug the loophole in those laboratories, local Chinese consulates listed some laboratories it designated as qualified places to get the test results, Wu added.

Iris He, a Chinese student in South Korea, recalled the process of virus prevention she went through when returning to China last week, from applying entry permit, taking nucleic acid and serologic tests, to uploading the reports for a pre-departure health code issued by a local Chinese embassy.

A green-color health code with an "HS" mark, which reflects the passenger's nucleic acid and serologic test reports and was approved by local Chinese embassies or consulates, is now a prerequisite for boarding flights, several domestic and foreign airlines told the Global Times.

"Airport personnel check the health code of the passengers flying to China during the check-in," said staffers with Air China. "Only those with a correct health code are allowed to board," a Finnair employee said.

A sales director with Juneyao Airlines told the Global Times that Juneyao's passengers returning to China must show their health code at least twice - when printing the boarding pass and at the boarding gate.

Iris He said she supports the inspection process. "It is not that troublesome to obey the rule," she said to the Global Times. "You have to be responsible for yourself and others."

The phenomenon of falsifying COVID-19 test reports has recently decreased, thanks to tightened inspections. Some overseas Chinese citizens in countries including the UK, Germany, France, Italy and Russia told the Global Times that they haven't heard of such wrongdoings happening in their communities in the past couple of weeks.

A few underground flight ticket scalpers reached by the Global Times reporters this week in the name of overseas Chinese ticket buyers said they don't, or no longer, offer report-forging services.

When asked whether one could pass the tests with some symptoms of a cough and fever, one ticket scalper told the Global Times reporter that "you should better wait for later after your symptoms disappear." Another scalper suggested the reporter take a test at a regular medical institution and get a report recognized by the Chinese government. 

"It's very strict now," he said. "Do not take chances."

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A man receives health code and temperature check at the entrance of a supermarket. (File Photo: Xinhua)

Rampant fabrication

Forging or tampering with COVID-19 test results was once rampant among some overseas Chinese communities, with a few people going to local underground agencies for a fake report before flying back to China. They uploaded the fabricated report to the platform of a local Chinese embassy or consulate in the hope of getting a health code.

The reports produced by some agencies looked the real thing, said a Manila-based Chinese blogger called "Starry" by her some 20,000 followers, many of whom are Chinese residents in the Philippines.

Starry sometimes received messages from her followers who complained about being harassed by ads of report-forging agencies. Occasionally, there were a few followers who shared the experience of getting fake reports from these agencies.

In a message Starry received in August, the follower showed a screenshot of a chat history between him and an agency. "Give me 1,200 yuan ($184), I give you a report in the name of a top-4 hospital in the Philippines," the agency wrote, showed the screenshot. "You don't even have to go to the hospital."

Many of the agencies were built by Chinese flight ticket sellers or travel agents in the Philippines, who might collude with local medical institutions in fabricating COVID-19 test reports, Starry said, criticizing these people as immoral. "They make money at the expense of others' health," she told the Global Times.

The Chinese government had reported several cases of global passengers flying into China with fabricated COVID-19 test results.

In September, two COVID-19 patients returning to China from the Philippines were found to have tampered with their test reports before boarding, said the Chinese Embassy in the Philippines. In November, the Chinese Embassy in Spain and the Chinese Consulate-General in Dubai respectively reported a local case of Chinese passengers tampering with their test reports before boarding.

In Russia, a flight from Moscow to Zhengzhou, Central China's Henan Province, was canceled on November 25 after the Chinese Embassy in Russia found the 190 passengers on the flight all had the same statistics in their blood tests, which means the test results were not verifiably true.

Xu Wenteng, head of a Chinese volunteer association in Russia, told the Global Times that some previous fabrications were due to "technical problems" in hospitals wanting to save effort if they found prospective passengers were not infected.

Ironically, these fake test results were made in the midst of Russia fighting one of the world's worst COVID-19 outbreaks - newly confirmed cases have numbered more than 20,000 every day there in the past month.

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A woman wearing a face mask walks along a deserted Carnaby Street, in London on Tuesday. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson cancelled Christmas for almost 18 million people across London and eastern and southeast England, following warnings from scientists of the rapid spread of the new coronavirus strain. Photo: AP

Justice is never absent

In London, resident Zhou recalled a person around him who had returned to China with a falsified test report. "He tested positive of COVID-19 at the Chinese customs soon after landing off the plane," Zhou told the Global Times. "But I've no idea whether he received a legal penalty," he added.

China has explicitly banned forging COVID-19 test results, said legal experts. The coronavirus patients who entered China with fake reports, though currently receiving medical treatment, will "very likely face justice through the legal system after recovery," Meng Bo, a Beijing-based criminal lawyer, told the Global Times.

China has also mandated that anyone who refuses to implement prevention and control measures, allowing the spread of coronavirus, shall be face charges, according to the law for the crime of hindering the prevention and control of infectious diseases.

Several Chinese embassies and consulates have informed domestic law enforcement departments of the fake report incidents they found. "The offenders will eventually pay for their wrongdoings," Meng said.

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