EU advises pre-flight Covid tests on passengers from China


World, Europe

The Chinese government and European health experts have said there is no pressing need for any blanket restrictions on travel

An employee of the the Dutch Municipal Health Service hands out free Covid-19 self-test kits to travelers arriving from China, at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport on January 4, 2023. (Robin van Lonkhuijsen /AFP)

Brussels: The European Union on Wednesday “strongly encouraged” its member states to impose pre-departure COVID-19 testing of passengers from China, in a move that is likely to upset Beijing and has already been criticised by the global airline industry.

Following a week of talks between EU health experts, the bloc stopped short of fully imposing on all 27 member states such a travel restriction that members like Italy, France and Spain had already implemented.

China has already vehemently rejected such actions and has warned of “countermeasures” if such policies were to be imposed across the bloc.

The Chinese government and European health experts have said there is no pressing need for any blanket restrictions on travel since the coronavirus variants emerging from China are already prevalent in Europe.

On Wednesday the International Air Transport Association, which represents some 300 airlines worldwide, lent its powerful voice to the protests.

“It is extremely disappointing to see this knee-jerk reinstatement of measures that have proven ineffective over the last three years,” said IATA Director General Willie Walsh.

“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,” Walsh said.

A day after threatening countermeasures, Chinese government spokesperson Mao Ning said Wednesday that “we sincerely hope that all parties will focus on fighting the epidemic itself, avoid the politicization of COVID.”

Still, the EU seems bent on taking some sort of joint action to ensure incoming passengers from China do not transmit any potential new variants to the continent. Sweden, which holds the EU presidency, said in a statement that “travelers from China need to be prepared for decisions being taken at short notice.”

Fearful of being caught unawares like at the outset of the global pandemic in early 2020, the EU Integrated Political Crisis Response group is now slated to make a decision later Wednesday.

As well as pre-departure testing, EU nations are likely to agree on special testing of wastewater in planes coming from China to see if it contains dangerous variants that are not common on the continent yet.

Over the past week, EU nations have reacted with a chaotic cascade of national measures to the crisis in China, disregarding an earlier commitment to act in unity before anything else.

Italy was the first EU member to require coronavirus tests for airline passengers coming from China, but France and Spain quickly followed with their own measures.