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COVID: German politician urges halt to China flights

December 23, 2022

CDU lawmaker Jürgen Hardt warned that China's COVID surge "threatened the whole world with a new wave of infections." Beijing is accused of playing down the number of new cases, weeks after relaxing its draconian curbs.

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Passengers  are directed by workers in n protective gear to a flight at a Capital airport terminal in Beijing, China, on Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2022
Earlier this month, China eased many of its strict measures to stop the spread of the coronavirusImage: Ng Han Guan/AP Photo/picture alliance

A German politician on Friday called for a temporary stop to flights between China and the European Union as the country battles a huge surge in COVID-19 infections.

The comments, from Jürgen Hardt, of the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), came after the Asian economic powerhouse partially relaxed its strict zero-COVID policy as a result of growing public anger over lockdown and quarantine regimes.

As a result, China is likely witnessing more than 1 million infections per day, according to modeling by a London-based research institute, although Beijing's official daily case rate is in the tens of thousands.

Experts have warned China to expect hundreds of thousands of new deathsfrom the virus.

CDU lawmaker Hardt in the lower house of parliament in Berlin on December 15, 2022
The CDU's Hardt called for curbs on flights to the EU from China to slow the waveImage: picture alliance/photothek

What did Jürgen Hardt say?

"The exploding COVID numbers, caused by the Chinese government's failed policy against the virus, are threatening the whole world with a new wave of infections," said Hardt, whose party is in the opposition.

In an interview with Redaktionsnetwork Deutschland (RND), which provides news content to about 60 media outlets, he said the European Union "must not repeat the mistake made three years ago," referring to how the novel coronavirus spread quickly globally when it emerged in 2020 because of the delay in grounding international flights.

"Only when we are sure that no new, dangerous mutation is threatening from China, should we resume flight connections," Hardt added.

The CDU lawmaker also called on the European Union to renew its offer to export mRNA vaccines to China.

Beijing has refused to allow Western vaccines to be used, as the country developed its own shots, which are less effective against the virus.

Hardt also spoke out against Chinese President Xi Jinping's power grab, labeling him as a "dictator" whose "hubris costs lives in his own country every day."

Other German politicians, including Green health policy spokesperson, Janosch Dahmen, called for an increase in mask use domestically.

"Not only because of the development in China," he told the RND. "But also because of the other respiratory diseases in Germany, it is important that we use the mask indoors a lot more — regardless of which rules apply."

COVID-19: Hundreds of 'fever clinics' in Beijing

How bad is China's COVID surge?

China reported fewer than 4,000 new symptomatic COVID-19 cases on Thursday and no new deaths for a third consecutive day.

Authorities have narrowed the criteria for COVID-19 deaths, prompting criticism from many disease experts.

Authorities said Friday that COVID-19 infections will peak in a week, while international health researchers think it could take until March.

Nearly 37 million people in China may have been infected on a single day this week, Bloomberg News reported Friday, citing estimates from the government's top health authority.

A Shanghai hospital has estimated that half of the commercial hub's 25 million people would get infected by the end of next week.

What was China's zero-COVID policy?

China's zero-COVID policy sought to eradicate the virus by forcing strict lockdowns, mass testing and quarantine rules. It was initially considered a huge success.

But the draconian policy is hard to maintain for long periods without severely curbing freedoms.

The containment measures had slowed the economy to its lowest growth rate in nearly half a century, jamming global supply chains and trade. 

Xi has been widely criticized for insisting that zero-COVID was maintained throughout the three-year pandemic, which led to protests in dozens of Chinese cities last month.

China suddenly eased its curbs on December 7, justifying the move by saying cases involving the new omicron variant are less severe.

mm/jcg (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)