European Union member states set the stage for coordinated controls on passengers arriving from China, including possible mandatory pre-travel testing, as the bloc works to ensure China’s sudden reversal of its zero-Covid policy doesn’t undermine the region’s efforts to put the pandemic behind it.
The EU decision, which looks likely to be agreed on Wednesday, would see member states follow the decision of U.S. authorities in tightening controls on arrivals from China ahead of the lifting of travel controls by Beijing in the coming days. Several EU member states including France, Spain and Italy have announced independent controls on arrivals from China.
China said last month that it would remove almost all remaining quarantine and Covid-testing restrictions for inbound travelers to the country, which has sparked a surge in demand for airplane tickets in and out of China. That follows a decision last month to reverse many of the country’s three year-old zero-Covid policies.
On Tuesday, a group of health experts from member states met with Brussels authorities for the second week running to discuss the situation. An EU crisis management group will meet on Wednesday to decide on coordinated measures, although it will be ultimately up to member states which measures they impose.
The health spokesman for the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, said Tuesday evening after the meeting that Brussels would recommend on Wednesday approving measures including mask wearing on flights from China, increased monitoring of wastewater for Covid on incoming flights, genomic surveillance at airports to check for new Covid variants and increased follow-up with travelers.
The spokesman said a recommendation to impose pretesting on people intending to travel from China would also be discussed, with the majority of countries favoring it.
The U.S. last week decided to require proof of a negative of Covid-19 test for people traveling from China, Hong Kong and Macau.
China has criticized what it called unacceptable and politically motivated Covid-related travel restrictions on its citizens and warned of countermeasures.
For much of the past three years, China has imposed stringent Covid testing and quarantine requirements on foreign nationals traveling to the country, part of a larger bundle of measures to prevent Covid infections from being imported from abroad.
Those policies were largely reversed last month and fresh data on surging infections in the country have largely dried up in recent data. The World Health Organization said it asked Chinese scientists to offer more details on the country’s Covid situation at a closed-door meeting on Tuesday.
EU officials said on Tuesday that there was no reason for undue concern, with the continent’s early warning and response measures still in place, no evidence as yet of new virus types and high immunity and vaccination levels in the continent, which was an epicenter of the crisis in the first year of the pandemic.
The Commission also on Tuesday confirmed its Health Commissioner
had been in touch with Beijing authorities to offer China free vaccines from its stock. Officials said they hadn’t received an official response.
The Chinese mission in Brussels had no immediate comment on the offer of vaccines or the proposed new travel controls.
More than two million people died in Europe from Covid.
Write to Laurence Norman at email@example.com
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Appeared in the January 4, 2023, print edition as ‘EU to Set Controls On Trips From China.’