If you want to visit China any time soon you’d better be prepared to have the Chinese jab – not that it’s very effective, says the head of the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. Olivia Palamountain reports

China’s government is planning to ease requirements for some foreign travellers under the condition that they get vaccinated with a Chinese-made Covid-19 vaccine.

The Guardian reports that the move has raised questions about the motivations behind the demand, given China’s vaccines are not approved in many of the countries to which it has opened travel and that it will not accept foreign vaccines made elsewhere, including those approved by the World Health Organization.

This news came as the Chinese embassy in the US issued a statement last month saying it would provide “visa facilitation” for people in the US who get vaccinated with Chinese Covid-19 vaccines. This was echoed in announcements made by Chinese embassies in about 20 further countries.

The policy is aimed at resuming “people-to-people exchanges between China and other countries,” the statement said, and would allow for foreigners injected with Chinese vaccines to enter China from abroad, provided they were permanent residents of China, family members of Chinese citizens, or wanted to travel to China for business purposes.

Any prospective entrants must have taken either the full two-dose course of a vaccine, or a single dose vaccine at least 14 days before travelling, but the vaccine must be one of China’s domestically produced shots. Negative Covid tests and quarantine rules still apply.

In a press briefing last month, Zhao Lijian, the ministry of foreign affairs spokesperson, denied the rule was designed to push other countries to recognise China’s vaccines.

“Our proposal … is made after thoroughly considering the safety and efficacy of Chinese vaccines,” Zhao said. “This is an arrangement made by the Chinese side unilaterally. It is a different thing from vaccine recognition.”

Robert Booy, an infectious diseases and vaccine expert from the University of Sydney, told The Guardian Beijing’s announcement was “a good sign” for people returning to China for work, and it made sense to want those returnees to be vaccinated.

“I think all countries, China or not, are proud of a safe and effective vaccine, and would be keen to see a quality vaccine widely used, so I’d take the politics out of this and say I understand wanting to see a safe and effective vaccine used.”

But the fact that Chinese-made vaccines were not available in many countries made things difficult. “I would hope the Chinese authorities would accept any reputable Covid vaccine,” Booy said.

In a worrying turn of events, China admitted today that its Covid vaccines are not actually that effective. According to The Daily Mail, in an extremely rare confession, the head of the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, Gao Fu, said the jabs “don’t have very high protection rates” against coronavirus symptoms.

Chinese jabs are being used in at least 45 countries, including Chile, which is currently suffering a Covid resurgence despite having one of the best roll-outs in the world.

Contrary to this, Science Mag reports that Brazilian researchers have stated that a vaccine made by a Chinese company, Sinovac, was safe and had 78 per cent efficacy in preventing mild cases of Covid-19 in a study of more than 12,000 health care workers.

It also completely prevented moderate and severe illness caused by SARS-CoV-2 infections, the team said. “The result we are seeing today is fantastic,” Rosana Richtmann, a physician from the Emilio Ribas Institute of Infectious Disease, said at the press conference.

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