US imposes new mandatory Covid tests for travellers from China as tourism to resume

The announcement comes as China begins gradual border reopening after ending its strict zero Covid policy. Credit: AP

The US has announced it will impose new mandatory Covid-19 testing on all travellers from China, following the decision by Beijing to lift its stringent "zero Covid" policies.

America joined Italy, India, Taiwan, South Korea, Malaysia and Japan in announcing new measures following an increase of infections in China.

The UK government confirmed on Wednesday that it has no plans to introduce similar rules for passengers travelling from China.

From January 5, all passengers from China, Hong Kong or Macao entering the US will be required to take a Covid-19 test no more than two days before travel and to provide a negative test before boarding their flight.

The testing applies to anyone two years and older, including US citizens.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put its decision down to a recent surge in infections in China and what it described as a lack of adequate and transparent information from Beijing, including genomic sequencing on the viral strains circulating in the country.

“These data are critical to monitor the case surge effectively and decrease the chance for entry of a novel variant of concern,” the CDC said.

Other countries have taken similar steps in an effort to keep infections from spreading beyond China's borders.

An officer collects passports for renewal and re-applications at a Beijing police station. Credit: AP

Japan will require a negative Covid test upon arrival for travellers from China, while Malaysia announced new tracking and surveillance measures.

India, Italy, South Korea and Taiwan are also requiring virus tests for visitors from China.

Italy is so far the only country in Europe and EU member state to have set the new Covid rules.

However, a UK Government spokesperson said: “There are no plans to reintroduce Covid-19 testing or additional requirements for arrivals into the UK.”

The spokesperson 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.

It comes after China announced on Tuesday that it will resume issuing passports for tourism for the first time since the start of the pandemic in 2020.

China's National Immigration Administration said the government will also "gradually resume" allowing foreign visitors into the country, but it gave no indication when full-scale tourism would continue.

Chinese authorities said earlier this week that they would drop the need for passengers arriving from abroad to quarantine from January 8.

The announcement was part of a rollback of the nation's strict anti-virus controls that had kept China’s infection rate low but fuelled public frustration and crushed economic growth.

It comes ahead of Lunar New Year, which starts on January 22, and is usually China's busiest travel season.

Some scientists are concerned the recent Covid-19 surge in China could unleash a new coronavirus variant that may or may not be similar to the ones circulating now.

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“What we want to avoid is having a variant enter into the US and spread like we saw with delta or omicron,” said Matthew Binnicker, director of clinical virology at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

But the CDC's action may be less about stopping a new variant from crossing US borders and more about increasing pressure on China to share more information, said Dr. David Dowdy, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

He added that he hopes the restrictions "aren’t kept in place longer than they need to be.”

“I don’t think it’s going to have a major impact in slowing the spread of Covid-19,” Mr Dowdy said. “We have a whole lot of transmission of Covid-19 here within our borders already.”