UK introduces negative Covid test requirement for travellers from China

Move follows recent decisions by other countries to impose travel restrictions on the Asian nation

Travellers walk with their luggage at the arrivals hall of Hong Kong International Airport. Getty
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Amid concerns over soaring cases of Covid-19 in China, the UK is set to introduce a requirement for travellers from the country to produce a negative pre-departure test.

The move follows that of other countries that have also recently imposed travel restrictions on the Asian nation.

UK ministers had said the situation was being kept under review as Beijing announced plans to start reissuing passports and visas for overseas trips.

A number of countries, including the US, India, France, Spain, Italy, South Korea and Taiwan, have begun to require visitors from China to be tested for the virus after the lifting of restrictions caused a wave of infections.

Some Tory MPs had called for a more robust response from the government, even as the chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, Andrew Pollard, said the imposition of travel restrictions was unlikely to stop variants reaching the UK.

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“Trying to ban a virus by adjusting what we do with travel has already been shown not to work very well,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

“We have seen that with the bans on travel from various countries during the pandemic.

“The important thing is that we have surveillance that, when a virus is spreading within our population here in the UK or Europe, we are able to pick that up and predict what might happen with the health systems and particularly the more vulnerable in the population.”

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Dr Pollard said that any new variant which did appear in China was likely to be best adapted to spreading in the Chinese population.

“The immunity in the [Chinese] population currently relates to vaccines that have been given in the population over the last couple of years and are different to the vaccines we have had and they have not had the extra immunity from having waves of Covid,” he said.

“So it is very difficult at this moment to tell whether a variant emerging in China is likely to have any impact here in the UK anyway.

“Testing people travelling from China probably doesn’t really answer the question about whether any new variant that is detected is going to be a problem here.”

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Health minister Will Quince said that the “key threat” was the potential for the emergence of new variants.

Tory MP David Davis suggested that mandatory testing for those coming from China was a “pretty sensible requirement”.

“If somebody turns up with the next virulent variant from China, we want to have processes in place — I think the government should certainly consider it and I would ideally implement it,” the former cabinet minister told LBC.

Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the Commons Defence Committee, called testing a “minimal effort”.

The Conservative MP told LBC: “Let’s get testing in place for passengers regardless of nationality of all incoming flights from China.

“Do we want to take a risk after all that we’ve been through in this pandemic?”

Updated: December 30, 2022, 8:49 PM