Israelis Traveling to China Complain of Draconian COVID Rules and Rigid Policies

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A passenger at a train station in Wuhanת, China.
A passenger at a train station in Wuhanת, China. Credit: ALY SONG / REUTERS

Israelis traveling to China are complaining about invasive COVID-19 testing upon arrival, poor conditions at the quarantine facilities they are ordered to stay in and rigid policies. TheMarker has learned that in one case, an Israeli visitor has been barred from leaving forced quarantine despite undertaking a series of what has been described as humiliating tests.

The mother of an Israeli businessman now in China, who asked not to be identified out of concern the authorities might punish him, said he was subjected to coronavirus testing that caused “people to scream in pain.” Testers don’t speak English, leaving visitors confused about what is happening and unable to understand the results.

Israeli travelers are feeling the sharp edge of draconian policies Beijing has imposed to keep the coronavirus at bay. Starting this year, travelers arriving in several cities, including Beijing, from countries with severe outbreaks have had to undergo weekly anal swab tests while in quarantine, The New York Times reports. Multinational companies say the number of expat employees in China has declined sharply.

Officials in Israel say the policies aren’t directed at Israelis. The website of the Chinese Embassy in Tel Aviv recommends that travelers not fly to China unless absolutely necessary, but the warning isn’t prominently displayed and appears only in English. Israel’s Foreign Ministry has not issued a travel warning for China.

Neither the Foreign Ministry nor the embassy responded to requests for comment.

China isn’t issuing visas for tourists and imposes severe limitations on travel for business, humanitarian reasons or family visits.

Two weeks ago China announced that travelers would have to present a vaccination certificate in order to get a visa. However, the only vaccinations Chinese officials will accept are those manufactured in China, not those produced by Pfizer or other Western makers, which are given in Israel.

Even those who have received a Chinese vaccine must still go into quarantine when they arrive. In addition, Israelis must also complete a COVID-19 test and an antibody test within 48 hours of their flight to China.

The Israeli businessman’s mother said her son was sent to an industrial building that had been converted into a quarantine facility. Photos her son sent her showed the building was in a desolate location, adjacent to a building used as a firing range. He was sent into isolation despite documents showing he had received the Pfizer vaccination.

The mother said her son told her Israelis and others in quarantine were in some cases sent to hospitals for several days of blood tests and CT scans without knowing the reason, and were asked to sign documents in Chinese without being informed of their contents.

The food provided in the quarantine center, the mother said, is often past its expiration date. “He has to stay in quarantine for two weeks in a room whose windows barely open. Afterward, he has to travel to another city in China, where he’ll have to spend another week in quarantine,” she said.

Quarantine expenses are paid by the traveler, not the Chinese government, she added. “If my son had known what he would experience, he wouldn’t have traveled,” she said.

Her son, like other Israelis on his flight, had arrived at his destination in China by flying through a third country. In this case, China imposes even more severe checks.

An Israeli flight attendant said that even though airline employees are subject to less severe rules, they also had to undergo blood tests as well as mouth and nasal swabs. Afterward, they are quarantined until they board a return flight to Israel.

Although they are sent to hotels, isolation rules are strictly enforced – in some cases, they are not given keys to their rooms. Because the hotels are administered by the Chinese Health Ministry, the staff is entirely made up of nurses.

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