Experts today dismissed calls for the UK to make people arriving from China take a Covid test – despite fears surging cases in the country could lead to a new variant.
Visitors to Britain from China will not be asked to provide a negative result before arrival – but the US and other nations are now demanding one.
Professor Paul Hunter, an epidemiologist at the University of East Anglia, said border controls generally only worked for diseases that weren’t already spreading in the UK.
But he added: ‘Controls imposed on one other country never work because if an infection is going to spread internationally it will spread to multiple countries and bypass unilateral controls.’
Dr Simon Clarke, a microbiologist based at the University of Reading, also doubted whether requiring a Covid test would be worth it.
‘I think travel restrictions are only likely to slow down transmission, not stop it completely,’ he said.
‘The tests aren’t 100 per cent accurate, plus people can come via other countries.’
France has also said it has no plans to require travellers coming from China to be tested.
Professor Brigitte Autran, head of the country’s health risk assessment committee COVARS, told France’s Radio Classique: ‘From a scientific point of view, there is no reason to bring back controls at the border… but that could change any day. ‘
America has joined Italy, India, Taiwan, South Korea, Malaysia and Japan in announcing new measures after the abrupt end of Beijing‘s zero-Covid policy sparked a surge in cases.
A sample of tests from two recent flights to Europe found that 50 per cent of people on board had the virus.
But a UK Government spokesman said today: ‘There are no plans to reintroduce Covid-19 testing or additional requirements for arrivals into the UK.’
The spokesman added the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) will continue to closely monitor the prevalence and spread of harmful variants and keep available international data under review.
However, travel expert Paul Charles suggested it would ‘inevitable’ the UK would also start requiring tests for Chinese travellers.
‘Ministers don’t want to make the same mistakes they made the first time round when Covid began,’ he told Sky News.
‘They don’t have enough information or quality data coming out of China to be able to make clear decisions yet, so I think they’ll want to insist that airlines test people beforehand and have proof of negative Covid tests before they let people into the UK.’
In the US, starting on January 5, all travellers from China will be required to take a Covid-19 test no more than two days before travel and provide a negative result before getting on their flight.
This applies to anyone aged two years and older.
In a statement explaining the restrictions, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cited the surge in infections and what it said was a lack of adequate and transparent information from China, including genomic sequencing on the viral strains circulating in the country.
The CDC said: ‘These data are critical to monitor the case surge effectively and decrease the chance for entry of a novel variant of concern.’
Italy is so far the only country in Europe and EU member state to have set the new testing rules.
According to the BBC, the European Commission said its health security committee will convene today to discuss ‘possible measures for a co-ordinated EU approach’ to China’s Covid situation.
Beijing has finally abandoned its doomed Covid-zero strategy, long after the rest of the world started living with the virus.
This has led to a large exit wave of new infections among the nation’s population of 1.4 billion – and the United States is now also considering its next course of action.
China will scrap quarantine for inbound travellers from January 8, drawing an end to some of the world’s harshest border restrictions.
The move was greeted with jubilation by Chinese citizens, who rushed to book international flights, triggering a surge in ticket prices.
But Bloomberg reported up to 50 per cent of passengers on two flights into Milan from China tested positive for Covid, prompting the Italian government to bring mandatory testing back.
Of 62 passengers on the first flight subjected to testing, 35 came back positive, while 62 out of 120 tested positive from the second plane.