UK to consider following US in requiring Covid tests for arrivals from China

Cabin crew take the temperatures of passengers boarding a flight from New York to China - Emily Wang Fujiyama/AP
Cabin crew take the temperatures of passengers boarding a flight from New York to China – Emily Wang Fujiyama/AP

UK transport and home office officials will consider today whether the UK should follow the US and other countries in imposing Covid restrictions on travellers flying in from China.

The United States announced last night that all travellers from China must test negative for Covid-19 before entering the country, joining India, Italy, Japan and Taiwan in taking new measures after Beijing’s decision to lift stringent zero-Covid policies.

The move will come into effect from January 5 for all air passengers over two years old who will, from then on, require a negative result from a test no more than two days before departure from China, Hong Kong or Macao.

Officials from the Department for Transport, Home Office and Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) are expected to assess today whether the UK should follow suit with six non-stop flights from China with 1,795 seats, due to arrive in the next seven days. There are 26 direct flights due in January.

Paul Charles, chief executive of the travel consultancy The PC Agency, said it was “inevitable” the UK Government would take action after facing criticism for its slow response to the spread of Covid from China on flights at the start of the pandemic.

“Governments have learned lessons from the initial wave of Covid. One of those lessons is that they work more closely on such restrictions. You cannot have Italy and the US doing one thing and others not doing the same,” said Mr Charles.

The Prime Minister’s spokesman said earlier yesterday that restrictions were “not something we are looking at,” but the subsequent US and Italian move could spark a snowball effect as Europe moves to adopt similar precautions.

China will drop Covid-19 quarantine requirements for international passengers from January 8 - Emily Wang Fujiyama/AP
China will drop Covid-19 quarantine requirements for international passengers from January 8 – Emily Wang Fujiyama/AP

Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, was particularly critical of the UK’s failure to act over the initial Covid outbreaks and was last night consulting advisers on whether to demand restrictions.

It comes after Italy became the first country in Europe to make it obligatory for people arriving from China to be tested for Covid following Beijing moving to reopen its borders.

Italy’s decision to impose testing for all China arrivals comes almost three years after it became the first western country to be hit by the pandemic, which to date has claimed more than 180,000 lives in the country.

“The measure is essential to guarantee the surveillance and identification of any variants of the virus in order to protect the Italian population,” said Orazio Schillaci, the Italian health minister.

Italy has already been monitoring swab tests at Rome’s Fiumicino airport and Milan’s Malpensa airport, where on Monday one in two passengers arriving on flights from China who undertook non-mandatory tests were found to be positive for coronavirus.

Virologists are watching nervously how China’s decision to drop quarantine for overseas visitors from 8 January and from the same date resume issuing visas to foreigners and passports to its own people may affect the global spread of the disease.

The end of China’s zero-Covid approach comes amid surging case numbers, with low vaccination rates especially among elderly people.

“The recent rapid increase in Covid-19 transmission in China increases the potential for new variants emerging,” a senior US health official told reporters in a phone briefing.

“We have just limited information in terms of what’s being shared related to the number of cases that are increasing, hospitalisations and especially deaths. Also, there’s been a decrease in testing across China so it also makes it difficult to know what the true infection rate is,” the health official said.

China’s Centre for Disease Prevention and Control reported just 5,231 new Covid cases and three deaths nationwide Wednesday – likely a drastic undercount since people are no longer required to declare infections to authorities.

“Currently the development of China’s epidemic situation is overall predictable and under control,”  foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said on Wednesday.

“Hyping, smearing and political manipulation with ulterior motives can’t stand the test of facts,”  Mr Wang added, calling Western media reporting on the Covid surge “completely biased”.

However, evidence shows that hospitals and crematoriums across China continue to be overwhelmed by the explosion of Covid cases, which have hit the elderly especially hard.

The winter surge comes ahead of next month’s Lunar New Year holidays, for which hundreds of millions of people are expected to travel to their hometowns to reunite with relatives.

Some global health experts have said the virus could infect as many as one million people per day, and international modelling groups have predicted China could experience two million deaths or more.

Published by anthonyhayble

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