When he finally got a day off on Wednesday and had time to visit the Chinese embassy in central Singapore from his home in Kovan, on the northeastern side of the island, Chinese national Chen Ming only wanted to know one thing: how could he get tested for the coronavirus?
He told This Week in Asia that he had tickets to fly to Guangzhou on September 6 with low-cost carrier Scoot, but had yet to receive any information about where he could get tested for Covid-19 – a new requirement for travellers bound for China from the city state that is set to go into effect from Friday.
After two years in Singapore’s food and beverage industry, Chen – not his real name – said he was ready to return to his home country, but the new negative test result prerequisite for travelling was making him anxious, as Singapore only offers testing for patients with respiratory symptoms.
Chen is not alone. As countries around the region ease open their borders in a bid to revive the ailing aviation industry, many would-be travellers have been left feeling confused and angry by what sometimes seem like daily rule changes by governments seeking to prevent imported infections that could trigger mass local outbreaks and force fresh lockdowns.
China’s new requirement for travellers from Singapore to have tested negative for Covid-19 in the five days before they are set to depart was only announced on Friday, and reportedly came into effect after dozens of inbound passengers from the city state had tested positive on arrival. The Chinese embassy in Singapore said the new rule applies to at least 80 other countries. Earlier this month, the Chinese embassy in Manila said travellers would need to submit proof they did not have Covid-19 before boarding flights to China.
There has also been confusion in Japan, where the government has said it will only accept negative results from a nasal swab test, while other countries such as China conduct deep throat swab tests. One 25-year-old Chinese student who had undergone a test in Dalian that showed her to be free of the virus and was again given the all-clear in a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test of her saliva after arriving at Narita on August 11 was nonetheless sent back to China, the Mainichi newspaper reported.
The woman, who has not been named, told the newspaper that she was called into an office at the airport and given a slip of paper bearing the message, “You will be sent back to your country of departure”.
Health authorities said they could not accept the results of the Chinese test, even though a similar test in Japan had come back negative. The woman, who was returning to a language school in Tokyo in preparation for sitting entrance exams for a graduate school programme that begins in late September, was quarantined for two nights at the airport before flying back to Dalian. The additional flight and quarantine expenses cost her more than US$1,350, she said, and she now has to spend another two weeks in quarantine in China.
“I have used up part of my savings set aside for tuition and I don’t have time to prepare for the university exams,” the woman told the Mainichi. “I might not return to Japan again.”
An official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed the policy on coronavirus tests for anyone arriving in the country, but declined to comment on individual cases or provide the number of people who have been turned back at points of entry into Japan.
Yoko Tsukamoto, a professor of infection control at the Health Sciences University of Hokkaido, said Japan’s policy was based on the fact that “there is evidence that the virus is staying in the mouth and upper part of the throat, but is harder to detect in the lower throat”, adding that Tokyo follows guidelines laid out by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
For Chen, who is in his 30s, his Wednesday visit to the Chinese embassy in Singapore was of little help. There were no consular services available – a sign having been put up saying the section was only open on Tuesdays and Thursdays – and a member of embassy staff referred him to an advisory issued a day earlier, which said that anyone travelli…
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