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Monday, Feb 06, 2023

UK joins countries screening arrivals from China for COVID

UK joins countries screening arrivals from China for COVID

Britain will require a negative test from travelers arriving from China after January 5.
The U.K. has joined several other European countries as well as the U.S., India and Japan in announcing COVID-19 screening for arrivals from China, after a surge in cases following Beijing’s decision to end its zero-COVID policy.

Britain will require a negative test from travelers arriving from China from January 5, the government said Friday evening. "The decision has been taken to introduce these measures specifically for China arrivals due to a lack of comprehensive health information shared by China," the health department said in a statement.

"The situation remains under review and the U.K. is working with China on next steps. If there are improvements in information sharing and greater transparency, then temporary measures will be reviewed."

In addition to pre-departure tests, the U.K. Health Security Agency will also test a sample of passengers arriving in England from mainland China from January 8 when China reopens its borders.

The British government has come under increasing pressure from some Conservative MPs to implement measures, with Steve Brine, Conservative chair of the health select committee telling BBC Radio 4 that it could be better to “overreact than under-react." Conservative chair of the defense select committee Tobias Ellwood also called for the U.K. to follow the U.S. in imposing testing on visitors from China.

The decision comes despite there not yet being scientific consensus that screening arrivals from China will help. The European Center for Disease Control has said that such measures are “unjustified.” Scientific advisers have also told ministers that testing arrivals will not make much difference, the Times reported. 

Even Andrew Pollard, chairman of the U.K. joint committee on vaccination, said that “trying to ban a virus by adjusting what we do with travel has already been shown not to work very well and we've seen that with the bans on various countries during the pandemic.”

“The likelihood of variants emerging [in China] is the same as it is in other places where there are COVID waves,” Pollard told Today on BBC Radio 4. “And the variants that emerge in China are ones that are going to be best adapted to spread in a Chinese population, which compared with countries like the U.K.. is much less COVID-experienced.”

But what has raised concern is the limited information coming out of Beijing. The U.S. has pointed to this as one of the reasons for their pre-departure testing from China. World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has also said that in order to make a comprehensive risk assessment, the WHO needs more detailed information from China.

"In the absence of comprehensive information from #China, it is understandable that countries around the world are acting in ways that they believe may protect their populations," he tweeted.

Britain joins Italy and Spain in Europe in announcing stricter border control measures on China in the wake of the country easing long-standing COVID-19 restrictions. Division over the issue at the EU level has led to concern about disjointed European responses, in contrast to plans to maintain a coordinated response in the face of health threats.

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