More PCR tests for travellers reintroduced globally as Covid-19 cases soar

International Air Transport Association says regulations driven by China surge are 'extremely disappointing'

Qatar, the US, Australia and the UK are imposing PCR test requirements on travellers from China. AP
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Mandatory PCR tests for travellers may have become a thing of the past in many parts of the world, but regulations are being reintroduced as Covid-19 cases rise once more.

Much of this has been driven by an increase in cases in China, after Beijing dismantled its zero-Covid policies, including the regular PCR testing of its population, triggering concern around the world.

Qatar announced it would require people arriving from China to provide a negative Covid-19 result from a test taken within 48 hours of departure, with the measures in place from Tuesday.

The testing requirement is imposed on all travellers, regardless of vaccination status.

On Wednesday, the International Air Transport Association responded to what it calls "knee-jerk reactions" for travellers from China.

“Several countries are introducing Covid-19 testing and other measures for travellers from China, even though the virus is already circulating widely within their borders. It is extremely disappointing to see this knee-jerk reinstatement of measures that have proven ineffective over the last three years," said Willie Walsh, director general of IATA.

"Research undertaken around the arrival of the omicron variant concluded that putting barriers in the way of travel made no difference to the peak spread of infections. At most, restrictions delayed that peak by a few days. If a new variant emerges in any part of the world, the same situation would be expected.

"That’s why governments should listen to the advice of experts, including the World Health Organisation, that advise against travel restrictions."

The US, Canada, Australia and the UK will impose PCR testing requirements on any travellers from mainland China from Thursday. The American and Australian guidelines also cover Hong Kong and Macau.

On Sunday, France began carrying out random PCR tests on some travellers arriving from China.

Joining France in this were countries including Italy, Spain, Malaysia, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan, which only recently reopened its borders to international travellers.

Morocco took this one step further by banning all travellers arriving from China as of Tuesday, “to avoid a new wave of contaminations in Morocco and all its consequences”, said the foreign ministry.

Meanwhile, India has broadened its regulations by making RT-PCR tests mandatory as of Sunday for people arriving from mainland China, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Thailand.

Travellers from these countries will have to take a test 72 hours before departure.

The country's existing practice of random testing of 2 per cent of international arrivals will continue.

Pakistan's Civil Aviation Authority also announced the screening of 2 per cent of passengers arriving in the country from international destinations.

“Where needed, RAT and PCR tests are being conducted, too,” the authority said on Twitter, urging passengers to keep their vaccination certificate on them at all times while in the airport.

In the Philippines, authorities intensified Covid-19 monitoring for travellers from China, thoroughly reviewing health declaration forms and intercepting symptomatic passengers upon arrival.

“Following the recent increase in Covid-19 cases in China, there is a need for the country to intensify the monitoring and implementation of border control protocols for incoming individuals, especially from China, at all ports of entry,” said the Centres for Health Development.

A call for the reinstatement of testing for inbound travellers from high-alert countries was also issued by the country's Department of Health.

China's first national Covid-19 wave

China said last month it would end mandatory quarantine for people arriving in the country and that it had abandoned strict measures to contain the virus.

This led to the county's first national Covid-19 wave, almost exactly three years after the first infections were recorded in the city of Wuhan in late 2019.

As many as 248 million people, about 18 per cent of the population, are thought to have contracted the virus in the first 20 days of December, according to minutes from a meeting of China’s National Health Commission.

But the World Health Organisation has questions about Beijing's data reporting and has urged authorities to share real-time information about the surge in cases so other countries can respond accordingly.

Currently, there are low official figures on cases and deaths despite some hospitals and morgues being overwhelmed, according to media reports, leading nations across the world to impose these new travel restrictions.

However, Andrew Pollard, chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation in the UK, said the imposition of travel restrictions was unlikely to stop variants from spreading.

“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.”

Updated: January 04, 2023, 1:55 PM