EU rejects Covid testing rules for arrivals from China

US becomes fifth country to introduce restrictions on passengers arriving from China

Passengers at a Beijing airport. China is experiencing an increase in Covid case numbers. AFP
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The EU rejected calls to impose testing and tracking restrictions on travellers from China after specialist health officials met to consider the threat from the Covid-19 outbreak and the relaxation of Beijing's travel restrictions

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said in a statement that “screenings and travel measures on travellers from China [were] unjustified”, as potential imported infections were “rather low” compared to the numbers already circulating on a daily basis.

It also noted that healthcare systems “are currently able to manage” Europe's caseload.

But Italy has introduced compulsory testing for travellers arriving from China and has urged the EU to follow suit.

Half of all passengers on two flights that touched down in Milan this week were infected with Covid, but Italian officials said on Thursday that no new variants had been detected.

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said Italy had already sequenced half of the samples tested in Milan and they all showed the Omicron strain of the coronavirus.

“This is quite reassuring,” she said at a press conference on Thursday. “The situation in Italy is under control, and there are no immediate concerns.”

Europeans have high levels of protection against Covid-19 thanks to widespread vaccination, and health systems on the continent can handle the current load of infections, the ECDC added.

Despite soaring coronavirus case numbers in the Asian country, China is preparing to issue ordinary passports and visas in a huge step back from strict Covid measures that have isolated the major travel destination for almost three years.

Chinese authorities’ apparent willingness to push ahead with the plan in the face of rocketing infection rates has sent countries scrambling to take action to prevent a sudden influx of infected travellers.

Britain has ruled out introducing restrictions on passengers from China but there is pressure to introduce new measures.

Lord Bethell, a former UK government minister, called on London to adopt the Italian approach and check for potential new variants while identifying who has the virus.

“What the Italians are doing is post-flight surveillance on arrivals in Italy in order to understand whether there are any emerging variants and to understand the impact of the virus on the Italian health system,” he said.

“That’s a sensible thing to do and something the UK government should be seriously looking at.”

The Conservative peer in the House of Lords also lauded Italy’s decision to impose a quarantine on those who test positive upon arrival.

British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace on Thursday hinted that the policy could be changed.

Asked whether ministers would consider restrictions for travellers from China, he said: “The government is looking at that, it’s under review, we noticed obviously what the United States has done and India, and I think Italy has looked at it.

“We keep under review all the time, obviously, health threats to the United Kingdom, wherever they may be.

“I think the Department of Transport will take medical advice, talk to the Department of Health and they’ll come to some decisions depending on what we see coming out of China, but at the moment it’s under review.”

Tobias Ellwood, Tory MP and chairman of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee, said the UK should “act swiftly” and introduce testing for travellers from China.

The US on Wednesday evening became the fifth country to impose restrictions on Chinese travellers. From January 5, everyone arriving from China will be required to produce a Covid test taken no more than two days before travel before boarding their flight.

Children under the age of two are exempt.

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Updated: December 29, 2022, 5:27 PM