Europe seeks joint stance on China travellers amid Covid worries

Top health officials from the European Union were holding talks on Thursday to try to coordinate very different views on how to respond to China’s decision to lift its Covid-19 restrictions amid a wave of infections there.

The scale of the outbreak in China and doubts over official data have prompted countries including the United States, India, and Japan to impose new travel rules on Chinese visitors while others including Britain said they had no plan to bring back Covid testing for those coming into the country.

In the EU, so far only Italy has ordered Covid-19 antigen swabs for all travellers coming from China, while others in the largely borderless bloc either said they saw no need to follow suit or were waiting for a common stance across the 27 member states.

“From a scientific point of view, there is no reason at this stage to bring back controls at the borders,” Brigitte Autran, head of the French health risk assessment committee COVARS, said on French Radio Classique on Thursday.

Autran, who advises the government on epidemiological risks, said that could change at any time but that for now, the situation was under control and that there were no signs of worrying new Covid variants in China.

Germany on Wednesday said it saw no need to impose new travel restrictions, and Austria stressed the economic benefits of the prospects of seeing a return of Chinese tourists to Europe.

In Italy, however, Deputy Prime Minister and Transport Minister Matteo Salvini said in a Twitter post that “Italy cannot be the only country to carry out anti-Covid checks at airports for those arriving from China.”

“I have asked that checks and possible limitations be applied throughout Europe.”

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni may say more on this in her end-of-year news conference from around 11:30 a.m. (1030 GMT).

The main airport in the Italian city of Milan started testing passengers arriving from Beijing and Shanghai on December 26 and found that almost half of them were infected.

It was unclear when the EU health committee, which started its meeting on Thursday morning, would end and what decisions it could take.

“The EU Health Security Committee is meeting … to discuss the Covid-19 situation in China and possible measures to be taken in a coordinated way,” the European Commission’s health directorate general said on Twitter.

The Health Security Committee is composed of officials from health ministries across the bloc and chaired by the Commission.

It has met frequently at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic in Europe to coordinate policies. Any decision would only be advisory, but its aim is for member states to agree on a common line and apply it across the bloc.

China’s borders have been all but shut to foreigners since early 2020, soon after the coronavirus first emerged in its central city of Wuhan, but it has announced it will stop requiring inbound travellers to go into quarantine from January 8.

That will boost foreign travel by its citizens who will no longer have to spend time in quarantine upon their return home.

China has rejected criticism of its Covid statistics as groundless and politically motivated attempts to smear its policies. It has also played down the risk of new variants.

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