Earlier this year, The New York Times ’ science and health reporter Donald G McNeil Jnr made some predictions about the unfolding pandemic: that the United States would suffer from a shortage of medical supplies; that things would not return to normal for quite some time; and that “a lot of us might die”. Dismissed at the time as alarmist, most of his prophecies came true. There is one outlier, though, and it’s perhaps the most dystopian of them all: the prospect of “immunity passports”. On the April 20 episode of The Times ’ podcast, The Daily, McNeil discussed the possibility that those who had recovered from Covid-19 might be able to return to work, dine out in restaurants and cross borders – essentially live their best, pre-pandemic lives – before those who were still at risk of contracting the virus based on an assumption of immunity. Days later, perhaps coincidentally, the World Health Organization issued a “scientific brief” stating, “At this point in the pandemic, there is not enough evidence about the effectiveness of antibody-mediated immunity to guarantee the accuracy of an ‘immunity passport’.” In something of a plot twist, mainland China recently changed its entry restrictions, requiring all arrivals from November 6 onwards to provide not only a negative test result for Covid-19 but also a negative result from an antibody test. According to the Chinese embassy in the US, these new measures are in place “to reduce cross-border transmission of Covid-19 and protect the health and safety of passengers”. Chinese online travel agency Trip.com explains the requirements, stating, “All persons (including Chinese nationals) travelling from abroad to destinations in mainland China must have proof of dual negative results for Covid-19 using both a nucleic acid test and a serological test from IgM antibodies. Both tests must be performed no more than 48 hours prior to departure and results must be submitted for approval to a local Chinese embassy or consulate.” A negative IgM test result means an individual has never been exposed to Covid-19 or has fully recovered after being infected – it’s not an immunity passport, because it can’t distinguish between the two scenarios, but it is another barrier to entry. Travellers who are able to jump through such hoops must then undergo a 14-day quarantine at a designated destination upon arrival. Phew! Even in an era of convoluted, confusing and capricious travel restrictions, these seem almost insurmountable, as if they have been implemented to dissuade anyone at all from entering the country. And maybe that’s fair enough. As infection and hospitalisation rates soar in the US and across Europe, China has not reported a single death from Covid-19 since April 26, according to the country’s National Health Commission, the only source of official information about coronavirus cases in the mainland. Speaking to American broadcaster NBC News, Ali Mokdad, a professor of global health at the University of Washington, said, “[China has] done an amazing job of controlling the virus,” although he did call the nation’s success, which he partly attributed to the discipline of the Chinese people, “puzzling”. Still, watching from afar as 630 million Chinese travelled during the annual “golden week” holiday , from October 1 to 8 – living rather like their pre-pandemic selves, albeit with faces covered – it is understandable why the country would want to keep outsiders out, and thus the virus in check. Besides, China is far from being alone in its vigilance when it comes to visitors – destinations such as New Zealand, Taiwan and Vietnam, which have all convincingly kept the coronavirus at bay, are also largely off limits to foreign nationals. Australians cannot even leave the confines of their vast country without a valid exemption. So, when viewed through a 2020 lens, China’s updated entry restrictions look a little less Kafkaesque. Immunity passports, on the other hand … Thailand’s first Chinese tourists in months clear quarantine Meanwhile, in Thailand, the first Chinese tourists to have entered the country on special tourist visas (STV), who arrived on October 20, have now completed their mandatory 14-day quarantine at a Bangkok hotel and are out and about. Website The Pattaya News reported that the 39 visitors had been given “smart band trackers to use for an undisclosed period of time” and are each expected to spend an average 5,000 baht (US$163) per day. (We assume the trackers report back just on the wearers’ whereabouts, rather than on their spending too). Under the STV scheme, travellers can stay for up to 90 days and can extend their visa twice. Where these pioneering arrivals go is not being disclosed by the Thai government. According to The Pattaya News, “normally at this time of year as many as 110,000 tourists arrived in the country daily”, and while 39 is unlikely to make any significant economic impact, “it is a first step”. Southern Thailand’s hermit shell crabs face housing shortage One of the unexpected consequences of all those hundreds of thousands of visitors staying away is being felt by southern Thailand’s hermit crab population (yes, really). Crustacean numbers have “exploded”, according to the Agence France-Presse news wire, “so much so that [one] national park authority appealed on Friday for the public to donate extra shells for them to live in”. Hermit crabs wear and live inside the discarded shells of other animals. The director of Mu Koh Lanta National Park told AFP that they could need tens of thousands of shells to address the shortage as crabs have moved into “pieces of rubbish such as cans, glass bottles or caps”.