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US to relax COVID rules for travellers from China

The Biden administration is preparing to relax COVID-19 testing restrictions for travellers from China, according to two people familiar with the decision.

The rules imposed in January require travellers to the US from China, Hong Kong and Macau to take a COVID-19 test no more than two days before travel and provide a negative test before boarding their flight.

The restrictions took effect amid a surge in infections in China after the nation sharply eased pandemic restrictions and as US health officials expressed concerns their Chinese counterparts were not being truthful to the world about the number of infections and deaths.

The sources said the administration has decided to roll back the testing requirements as cases, hospitalisations and deaths are declining in China and the US has gathered better information about the surge.

As part of its response, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expanded genomic surveillance at several US airports, collecting voluntary samples from passengers aboard hundreds of weekly flights from China, and testing wastewater aboard airplanes. The Traveller-based Genomic Surveillance Program will continue to monitor travellers from China and more than 30 other countries.

China saw infections and deaths surge after it eased back from its "zero COVD" strategy in early December after rare public protests against a policy that confined millions of people to their homes and sparked demands for President Xi Jinping to resign.

But as China eased its strict rules, infections and deaths spiked, and parts of the country saw their hospitals overwhelmed by infected patients looking for help. Still, the Chinese government has been slow to release data on the number of deaths and infections.

The US decision to lift restrictions comes at a moment when US-China relations are strained. Biden ordered a Chinese spy balloon shot down last month after it traversed the continental United States. The Biden administration has also publicised US intelligence findings that raise concern Beijing is weighing providing Russia weaponry for its ongoing war on Ukraine.

Earlier on Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang warned that Beijing and Washington were headed for "conflict and confrontation" if the US doesn't change course.

Qin's comments came a day after Xi in an unusually pointed speech said that "Western countries led by the United States have implemented all-round containment, encirclement and suppression of China."

White House officials sought to downplay the hot rhetoric from Beijing.

"There is no change to the United States' posture when it comes to this bilateral relationship," White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said. "The president believes those tensions obviously have to be recognised, but can be worked through."