EU splits on COVID tests for passengers from China, UK takes a wait-and-see approach

London: The European Union has split on whether to test travellers from China for COVID-19 and the UK is reviewing the matter having taken notice of the testing requirements put in place by its ally the United States.

Earlier this week Britain signalled it was not considering mandatory testing but on Friday (AEDT) Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said it was “under review”.

British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace.Credit:Getty Images

Millions of Chinese are believed to have contracted the virus since President Xi Jinping ended his pursuit of zero-COVID infections earlier this month after rare public protests over draconian lockdowns and testing regime.

“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,” Wallace said.

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

A snap poll conducted by YouGov in the UK suggested public support for the pre-arrival testing requirement was as high as 75 per cent.

Passangers arriving from China are tested for COVID-19 on arrival at Milan Malpensa Airport, Italy, on Thursday.Credit:LaPresse/AP

On Wednesday, the US said it would mandate a negative test taken two days before departure for passengers arriving from China, Hong Kong and Macau.

Australia on Thursday said it was not changing rules ahead of China’s international reopening on January 8 although Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he would “respond in accordance with health advice.”

Italy, scarred by its experience in receiving flights from Wuhan, China, where the virus emerged in late 2019, having its health system overrun and being the first to post daily death tolls in the hundreds, has started insisting on negative tests on entry. On Thursday, Italian officials said that more than half of the passengers on two flights from China had tested positive.

Passengers coming with an Air China flight from Guangzhou, China, leave a COVID-19 testing area set at Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci international airport in Fiumicino, on Thursday.Credit:AP

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni told a news conference that Italy “expects and hopes” the EU would follow suit on testing.

She said requiring COVID tests of all passengers from China “is only effective if it is taken at the European level”.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni wants the European Union to follow her lead on COVID testing for travellers arriving from China.Credit:AP

But the bloc disagreed with the European Commission arguing the Omicron variant circulating in China was already present in Europe and has “not significantly grown”.

“However, we remain vigilant and will be ready to use the emergency brake if necessary,” the commission added.

Germany had argued against testing requirements.

“There is no indication that a more dangerous variant has developed in this outbreak in China … which would bring corresponding travel restrictions,” Health Ministry spokesman Sebastian Guelde said.

Japan, India, South Korea and Taiwan are also requiring virus tests for visitors from China.

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