China has been using the strict zero-Covid policy to enforce its authoritarian control over its people. But it did not spare foreigners. Since the pandemic broke out, Beijing has been imposing inhumane COVID measures on many U.S. diplomats. 

That’s what congressional sources have shared with the Wall Street Journal through internal memos, emails, and cables delivered to State Department senior officials over the past two years. The documents show how badly China treats U.S. diplomats and their families when they are in China.

In early 2020, when COVID broke out in China, the U.S. evacuated 1,300 diplomats and their families.

To not let autocratic governments like China use COVID to abuse diplomats, the State Department released a notice in July. The notice states that the U.S. will not allow U.S. employees or families to travel to a country where they would be COVID tested by foreign officials or locked up in a quarantine facility run by a foreign government. In that case, diplomats can choose to self-quarantine for 14 days.

However, in September of the same year, China’s State Department signed a “limited waiver of inviolability,” effectively negating this notice and applying China’s way of COVID testing and quarantine to U.S. diplomats.

According to this waiver, U.S. diplomats would have to go through 14 days of quarantine, then take three COVID tests (one before departure, one when arriving at the airport, and one on day 13 of quarantine).

 Diplomats testing positive were locked up in poor quarantine sites until they recovered.

For example, according to a memo sent to the acting head of the China mission on January 7, 2022, U.S. diplomats say they were quarantined in one of two hotels selected by the Chinese government, presumingly also run by the authority.

Adults and children older than 14 were forced to stay in their rooms alone. This led one teen to develop mental health issues. The Chinese have allegedly spied on them and collected their DNA. U.S. diplomats’ families said that the rooms at both hotels were moldy and dirty. The room might not have been cleaned for months.

According to a memo in January, U.S. diplomats suspected China was changing test results to impose excessive control or to harass them. That’s because many U.S. diplomat’s families who had tested negative when they first got there started to test positive during the quarantine period. And then China would send these people to “fever clinics,” not hospitals.

According to a whistleblower report, the fever clinics are small, dirty rooms, some of which are made from shipping containers. Every door and window is locked. After coming here, people were tested with nasal and throat swabs, and had to provide sputum, urine and stool samples. They also have to take Electrocardiography and C.T. scans. Many children get nosebleeds when taking nasal swabs made for adults. Parents say that repeated nose swabs cause them pain.

There was no soap, toilet paper, towels, laundry service, or even potable water on site. People in these fever clinics had to beg for water or wait for care packages. Some didn’t have T.V. or wifi. One family said that their children have soup as the main dish for every meal. Many people lose a lot of weight. And they only have negative COVID tests after weeks or even months.

A family of five stayed in the fever clinics for more than two months, from July to September 2021. During that time, they underwent a total of 159 throat, nose, and blood tests. Another family of four was put in quarantine for 69 days.

Diplomats in quarantine also say they are denied urgent medical care. A two-year-old fell and cut himself badly on a coffee table. Two hospital staff turned away the child, and it took 12 hours to find a private clinic. Another ambassador in quarantine said he had a severe stomachache but was told to wait. He was diagnosed with appendicitis after his release.

Just like mainlanders, Americans must use China’s official health app. A person would need a “green” health pass to move around and get into buildings.

In a July 2022 cable to China from the State Department, diplomats’ travel codes may frequently go “red,” disrupting their plans. Whistleblowers worry that the Chinese will use the app to track them. They might casually change the definition of “close contacts” to impose additional quarantine.

Sign up to receive our latest news!

By submitting this form, I agree to the terms.