Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly advised against mandatory COVID-19 testing for travellers from China

Australia’s chief medical officer had expressly advised the Albanian government not to introduce mandatory COVID-19 testing for travelers from China a day before the measure was announced.

In a letter dated December 31, released late on Monday night, Paul Kelly told Health Minister Mark Butler there was “insufficient public health rationale” for the move.

On New Year’s Day, Australia followed several other countries including the United Kingdom, the United States and France in imposing mandatory tests on people traveling from China.

Announcing the move, Mr Butler said the decision was taken “out of an abundance of caution” and due to a lack of detailed epidemiological data in China.

Mark Butler looks at Paul Kelly during a press conference
Professor Kelly advised against compulsory testing a day before Mark Butler announced the government’s intention to introduce it.(ABC News: Matt Roberts)

But Professor Kelly pointed out that in the absence of any “specific threat” from a variant of COVID-19 and with high vaccination rates in the country, there was no need for any additional restrictions or requirements on China.

Professor Kelly also said there was a consensus between himself, New Zealand public health officials and the chief health officers of other states and territories that such a move would be “inconsistent” with Australia’s national approach and “disproportionate” to the risk.

Instead, the chief medical officer suggested Australia consider an aircraft wastewater testing program, voluntary sampling of incoming travelers on arrival, expanded community wastewater testing for variants of COVID and an enhanced follow-up program for people who test positive for COVID.

Exemptions and details of testing requirements have been released

The testing requirements on arrivals from China will come into effect from 12:01am on Thursday, ahead of the expected lifting of China’s travel restrictions on 8 January.

Travelers from China, including Hong Kong and Macau, will be required to take a COVID test within 48 hours of departure and receive a negative result.

Passengers will be required to undergo a PCR or other Nucleic Acid Amplification test, or a rapid antigen test administered or supervised by a medical practitioner.

Flight crew, children under the age of 12 and people who can prove they have survived recent COVID will be exempt from testing.

People on flights passing through China will also not need negative test results.


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