Covid: Government under pressure to reverse ‘complacent’ China testing policy

The government is under pressure to impose restrictions on people entering the UK from China as cases of Covid rise in the country.

On Thursday, ministers were reviewing whether to require travelers from China to be tested 24 hours after they said there were no plans to make them mandatory, but no immediate action was taken.

Starting Jan. 5, all people arriving from China must present a negative test result taken two days before their flight, the United States said on Wednesday.

India, Italy, Taiwan, South Korea, Malaysia and Japan also announced restrictions on travelers from China after Beijing announced it was preparing to abandon its zero-covid policy and open its borders.

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Experts and former ministers say the UK government must act faster to keep the public safe.

Professor Laurence Young, a virologist at the University of Warwick, said the government’s decision to delay restrictions was “dangerous” and risked a new variant being introduced into the UK.

“We are opening ourselves up to more infections and the risk of new variants coming into the country,” Professor Young said. The Independent.

“If we don’t monitor people when they come, we are putting ourselves at great risk,” he added.

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“Infections and hospitalizations are still quite high, but there is a general sense of complacency around Covid.

“Despite serious illness and death in the Chinese population, we know we have a problem when we have such a widespread infection, where the official numbers don’t exactly match what’s on the ground. There are more infections and new variants may emerge.”

On Thursday afternoon, Health Minister Will Quince said the government believed the “main threat” was whether there was a new version of Covid from China, adding that there was “no evidence at this time”.

“The news coming out of China is going to worry a lot of people,” he said.

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“The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care (Steve Barclay) met the Chief Medical Officer of the UK Health Safety Agency this morning, so the government is taking this very seriously.

“The main threat is any new variant. There is currently no evidence of a new variant coming from China. This variant has not already spread to the UK.

“But we are monitoring the situation closely.”

Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said during a visit to Manchester Airport on Thursday that he was considering further restrictions “as we speak” and could make an announcement on Thursday or Friday.

Masked travelers with luggage line up at the check-in counter for an international flight at Beijing Capital International Airport in Beijing.

(Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, former health minister Lord Bethell praised Italy’s “sensible” approach to quarantining those who tested positive on arrival.

The strategy, he said, would allow for genomic testing to trust the results and understand whether new variants are emerging.

“I think there are different reasons for testing — one is the American way of doing preliminary testing to slow the spread.”

Half of the Chinese tourists who arrived on two flights at Milan’s Malpensa Airport on December 26 tested positive for Covid-19, officials said.

About 38 percent of passengers tested positive on the first flight and 52 percent on the second, Guido Bertolaso, a senior official in the Lombardy region, said.

Italian authorities have said they will use swabs taken from passengers to test new variants arriving from China.

However, there are no quarantine facilities for people and there is little sign of a new variant emerging in China, with experts divided on whether testing could be introduced in the UK.

An officer collects residents for passport renewals and re-applications at a community police station in Beijing

(Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

“Countries such as Singapore and Taiwan are still under quarantine. If you’re trying to stop the chain of transmission, you have to do something with people who get tested,” said Professor Linda Bauld, Head of Public Health at the University of Edinburgh. The Independent.

“Another reason why I think Australia and the UK are doing nothing but saying they want to know more about China’s Covid data is that the variants that cause massive infections are still the Omicron family, which has been a huge growth for us. Vaccines still well tolerated.”

However, he added that the “big unknown” is that new versions of Covid could be developed because there are no travel restrictions, and restrictions would be necessary if an Omicron competitor emerged.

Prof Azeem Majeed added that similar testing of travelers from China would not make much difference because the UK has high levels of Covid and restrictions would be introduced if new cases emerged from China.

China has announced that it will end its zero-covid policy from January

(AFP via Getty Images)

However, Professor Young stressed that the lack of restrictions “doesn’t make sense” and could increase infections and put more pressure on the NHS.

In a statement explaining its decision to impose the restrictions, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cited a growing number of infections and a lack of sufficient and transparent data, including the genome sequence of the virus strain circulating from China. Country.

Italy is so far the only European and EU member state to adopt new Covid rules.

The European Commission’s Health Security Committee met on Thursday to discuss a “coordinated EU approach” to China’s Covid situation.

The bloc’s health officials have resisted pressure to adopt the Italian member state’s approach, but agreed to continue talks to seek a common approach to travel rules.

The European Commission said in a statement that a variant of the BF7 omicron, which was popular in China, was already circulating in Europe and did not pose a significant threat.

“However, we remain vigilant and will be ready to apply the emergency brakes if necessary,” an EU executive said in a statement Thursday afternoon.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said on Thursday that testing all passengers for Covid would be “effective only if done at the European level”, noting that many people had arrived in Italy via other European countries.

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