Chinese Abroad Caught Faking COVID-19 Tests to Return Home

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The Chinese Consulate in Lagos has announced punishments for two domestic companies based in Nigeria after their employees committed COVID-19 test fraud in order to return to China.

According to the consulate’s notice on Thursday, the three men had fraudulently obtained negative IgG antibody test results for COVID-19 when applying for their health codes — a sort of digital passport used by China to trace infections and gauge an individual’s public health risk. The consulate said the men would be barred from applying for health codes for two months, effectively preventing them from returning to China during this time.

“Their behavior violated China’s law on epidemic prevention and could have presented enormous health risks to the other passengers on their flight,” the consulate said.

While China has managed to bring the coronavirus to heel within its borders, the country’s still-low vaccination rate means most people remain vulnerable to contagious cases arriving from abroad. As a result, borders between China and other countries have been slow to reopen, and public health measures for citizens seeking to return are rigorous.

In addition to negative nucleic acid tests, some embassies and consulates require would-be travelers to obtain negative antibody tests. For a time, this presented a problem for people who had fully recovered after contracting COVID-19 but still had antibodies against the virus circulating in their bodies. As a workaround for this group, the Chinese Consulate in Lagos accepts CT scans showing no signs of lingering infection.

According to Thursday’s notice, the three men’s two employers have also been punished, their staff now barred from applying for health codes for two weeks. The consulate further warned that any behavior by citizens abroad that endangers outbreak control efforts, including tampering with COVID-19 tests or having healthy imposters get tested on behalf of others, would be strictly punished.

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Earlier this week, another Chinese national living abroad was convicted of fabricating his COVID-19 test result when he applied for a health code to return to China last December. The man, who was diagnosed with the disease soon after landing, received a one-year suspended sentence, the Chinese Embassy in Russia said Tuesday.

Since being introduced in February 2020, China’s app-based health codes — green for healthy people, or yellow or red for at-risk individuals — have become a ubiquitous tool for domestic travel, with many businesses and tourist sites requiring visitors to flash their green health codes upon entry. Earlier this month, some province-level regions added a gold code for their fully vaccinated residents.

In addition to Chinese authorities holding people and companies accountable for risky behavior, last year China’s civil aviation authority announced it would punish and reward airlines — adding or taking away routes — based on whether they were allowing healthy or sick people into the country.

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