The UK government is set to follow other countries by requiring travellers from China to be tested for Covid-19 from early next year, amid concerns that the lifting of restrictions there has seen a wave of infections.
The Department of Health said that anyone travelling from China on direct flights to England from January 5 will need to show a negative Covid pre-departure test taken no more than two days before departure.
Although there are no direct flights from China to Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, the department said it is working with devolved nations so that the changes are imposed UK-wide as soon as possible.
The UK Health Security Agency will also launch surveillance from January 8, which will see a sample of passengers arriving in England from China tested for the virus as they arrive.
Why is the UK government imposing Covid tests on travellers from China? ITV News Political Correspondent Harry Horton explains
There are concerns that the daily cases and deaths in China have been greatly underreported as officials have stopped requiring cases to be reported, and changed classifications for coronavirus deaths.
Health Secretary Steve Barclay said that the UK was taking a “balanced and precautionary approach”, describing the measures as “temporary” while officials assess the latest Covid-19 data. “This allows our world-leading scientists at the UK Health Security Agency to gain rapid insight into potential new variants circulating in China,” he said. “The best defence against the virus, however, remains the vaccine. NHS staff have done an incredible job delivering over 150 million jabs across the UK. “It isn’t too late to come forward, for your first, second, third, or autumn booster – it’s quick and easy, and you can book online, on the NHS app, or just turn up at one of the many walk-in centres across the UK.”
The move comes after Spain, the US, Italy, India, Taiwan, South Korea, Malaysia and Japan announced new screening measures following the end of Beijing’s zero-Covid policy.
Ministers had previously said the situation in the UK was being kept under review as Beijing announced plans to start reissuing passports and visas for overseas trips.
Officially the Chinese government is reporting around 5,000 Covid cases a day but analysts say it could actually be as high as one million cases a day.
Some Tory MPs had called for a more robust response from the government, even as the chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, Professor Andrew Pollard, said the imposition of travel curbs was unlikely to stop variants reaching the UK.
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.
On Friday, Chinese state media called the imposition of Covid tests by some countries on travellers arriving from China "discriminatory".
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