More than half of passengers on at least two flights from China to Italy have tested positive for COVID-19, Guido Bertolaso, Lombardy regional councillor for welfare, told in a news conference. This comes as China prepared to open up its borders and lift the restrictions under its stringent Zero COVID policy despite that the country faces a massive uptick of new infections. The two flights into Milan were among those wherein the passengers were subjected to new mandatory COVID-19 testing. Millions of Chinese are flying abroad for next month’s Lunar New Year holiday for the first time since 2020, in almost three years.

“On the first flight, out of 92 passengers 35 (38%) are positive. On the second, out of 120 passengers 62 (52%) are positive,” Guido Bertolaso, Lombardy regional councillor for welfare, said at the news conference on Wednesday.

All passengers infected with new variant

All new arrivals from China on the planes were put through sequencing tests that showed they were infected with the new variants, Italian Health Minister Orazio Schillaci said on Wednesday raising concerns. “The measure is essential to ensure surveillance and detection of possible variants of the virus in order to protect the Italian population,” he added. Beijing this week announced that it will do away with all quarantine rules for international arrivals from January 8, 2023. The restrictions were introduced by the Chinese National Health Commission to curb the incidence rate of imported coronavirus cases within its territory of 1.4bn population as part of a wider clampdown under the PRC’s strict Zero COVID policy.

As of January 8, however, overseas travellers will no longer be mandated to quarantine but will be required to obtain negative COVID-19 test results within 48 hours of departure. Chinese foreign ministry, in an update, claimed that “life and work here are coming back to normal.” Wang Wenbin said the pandemic situation in China was “generally as expected and under control.”

“With Omicron less pathogenic and deadly than previous variants and China’s treatment, testing, and vaccination capacity steadily on the rise, China is shifting its focus from stemming infection to preventing severe cases and caring for the health, which is science-based, timely, and necessary,” Wenbin claimed at the briefing. She then went on to accuse the western media of “double standards,” saying that they “misrepresent China’s COVID policy adjustment and yet avoid reporting on the deficiencies and heavy price paid in their own countries’ COVID response. This is nothing but double standards.”