Australia’s chief medical officer has advised there is no “sufficient public health rationale” for new travel laws.
Australia has introduced COVID-19 tests to travelers from China despite the country’s top medical official advising against the move, a newly released letter shows.
In a letter sent to Health Minister Mark Butler on Saturday, Australia’s chief medical officer, Paul Kelly, said he did not believe there was a public health justification for introducing new travel requirements for arrivals from China.
Kelly said Australia’s high level of vaccination and previous infection, and the fact that the BF.7 Omicron sub-variant seen in driving cases in China was already circulating in the country, among other things, meant there was “not a sufficient public health rationale”. to new driving rules.
There was “strong agreement” among health officials in Australia and New Zealand that restrictions on travel from China would be “inconsistent with the current national approach to managing COVID-19 and disproportionate to the risk”, he said.
Kelly recommended that instead of travel restrictions, the government should consider expanding wastewater testing, introducing volunteer sampling at international arrivals and improving tracking of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 and have a recent history of overseas travel.
Despite the advice, Butler announced the next day that travelers from China, including Hong Kong and Macau, would be required to produce a negative COVID result within 48 hours of travel.
Butler said he made the decision “out of an abundance of caution, taking into account the dynamic and evolving situation in China and the potential for new versions to appear in a high-broadcast environment.”
Butler said at the time that he was “extensively briefed” by Kelly, but did not go into detail about the nature of the advice he received. Butler has since defended the measures as “very modest” and a “balanced decision”.
Kelly’s letter to Butler was published on the Australian Department of Health and Aging’s website late on Monday night.
Australia’s move followed similar measures by the United States, Britain, South Korea, India, Japan, Taiwan, Italy, France and Spain.
Canada also announced on Saturday that it will begin checking entries from China from January 5.
Authorities have raised concerns that rising cases in China following the dismantling of Beijing’s tough “zero-COVID” policy could lead to the emergence of new, more dangerous variants.
Some health experts criticized the testing requirements, arguing they would do little to stop the spread of new variants and risk fueling xenophobia.
China criticized the inspection rules as “unnecessary”, while Chinese state media blasted the measures as “baseless” and “discriminatory”.
China is set to lift its mandatory quarantine on arrivals from January 8 after three years of strict border controls, but will continue to subject all arrivals to COVID tests.