EU member state officials convened for urgent talks on Thursday in an attempt to co-ordinate a bloc-wide approach to China’s abrupt ending of its zero-Covid containment policy, as capitals across the world weighed their responses to surging infections in the country.
A huge increase in Covid-19 cases in China and a rush of international travel bookings from the country prompted the US to demand negative test results for new arrivals from China, while a slew of other countries including Italy put in place testing requirements for air passengers.
The sudden reimposition of some travel restrictions, lifted in western countries for most of the past year, is the latest repercussion from Beijing’s decision to scrap its draconian zero-Covid policies, sparking an unprecedented coronavirus wave that is infecting tens of millions of people in China each day.
Italy’s move to test all air arrivals from China for coronavirus came as the likes of France, the UK and others said they had no plans to follow suit or were waiting for further information.
The European Commission said it had on Thursday convened a meeting of the bloc’s Health and Security Committee, made up of officials from member states, to “discuss the Covid-19 situation in China & possible measures to be taken in a coordinated way”.
Italy, which said that 52 per cent of passengers on one post-Christmas flight from China to Milan tested positive for coronavirus, has written to the commission urging a bloc-wide policy on Chinese arrivals. The EU’s free travel Schengen zone means there are no restrictions on people moving around most of the continent.
Italian health minister Orazio Schillaci said Italy would use genetic sequencing of positive test results to determine whether new variants were emerging in China. There are fears any new strain could pose a higher health threat than variants already in circulation for which vaccines in use in the west offer good protection.
Norway and Finland are not considering imposing any conditions on arrivals from China because there is already a significant amount of Covid infections in the Scandinavian countries and few travellers from the Asian nation at this time of year, according to health authorities.
“It’s pointless,” Jari Jalava, an infectious disease expert at Finland’s health authority, told state broadcaster Yle.
German health ministry spokesperson Sebastian Gülde said on Thursday: “We are watching the situation closely and co-ordinating closely with our international partners. Up till now the health ministry has no indication that any kind of worrying variant has emerged in the context of the outbreak in China, compared to the variants that are currently circulating in Germany.”
There were no details as to what the EU’s Health and Security Committee could agree on. Any decision would only be advisory on member state governments, but the body was critical in sharing information and agreeing joint approaches during the height of the pandemic in Europe.
Additional reporting by Richard Milne in Oslo and Guy Chazan in Berlin