Visas in the time of flu

If you're thinking about coming to China from the US, you should know that visa rules have recently tightened up dramatically, as they did before the Olympics last year. Here's why.

Inside China, the detected flu cases have doubled, from one person to two, and the quarantine-and-tracking efforts are stepping up. Newspaper charts have shown the infected people's progress through the country and reported the efforts to find and quarantine everyone who was, say, riding in the same railroad car. A report I saw this morning said that most of the people who had been on the same Beijing-Jinan train with Victim #2 were still "at large."


[Reader R. Skinner points out the inventive West-to-East rendering of the Toronto->Vancouver-> Beijing flight.]
Meanwhile, in mail from Chinese readers and in Chinese and English news sources I've seen more and more frequent mentions of the need to crack down on the "real" source of the problem: the United States. Both of the infected people had, after all, come on flights originating in the US (flights from Mexico having been cancelled for quite a while.)  Eg this lead editorial in yesterday's Global Times, the new state run voice to the outside world.

I don't see an online source for this item, parts of which you can read if you click on the image to see a larger version. The gist is that the US is again being lax, fat, and happy in not imposing as many internal restrictions to limit the spread of flu as China is doing. Eg:

"The situation is now clear: the US must respond to the epidemic with more active, effective measures.... At the moment, life in the US is continuing much as before, with Americans traveling as widely as usual... But the impact of swine flu can be disastrous for countries without proper preventive systems....

"China has taken exhaustive measures to track down all of the people who traveled with the two swine flu victims. A few are still missing, posing a risk to the rest of the population."

In practice, here is what it means for Americans. In the olden days, ie until last week, if you got in line at a Chinese consulate early enough in the morning to reach the visa window before the noon lunch break, one of your choices would be "expedited" same-day service. For an extra fee of something like $150, you could get the visa after lunch. If you missed the morning rush and applied in the afternoon, you could still normally get your visa the next day. If you had all the right forms and there were no complications, you could more or less count on getting a visa in one or two days.

Now, "because of flu," expedited handling is called off and visas for Americans are, according to various reports, subject to a mandatory six-working-day processing period. I have heard of one big-deal conference scheduled for next week that has just been scrubbed because attendees couldn't get visas, and various other ripple effects. One more thing to be aware of if you're thinking of a visit.