US to require negative Covid tests for air passengers from China

The US said it would require negative Covid-19 tests for air passengers travelling from China as countries rushed to impose restrictions in response to a surge in cases in the country following the abrupt end of Beijing’s zero-Covid containment policy.

Washington’s move on Wednesday came just hours after Italy announced it will test all air passengers arriving from China for the virus, becoming the first western country to set new rules in response to the jump in infections.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that from January 5, travellers boarding flights to the US from China, Hong Kong and Macau would need a negative Covid test or proof of recovery from a previous infection. The requirements also apply to passengers arriving in the US via a third country and those connecting to other destinations through the US.

The measures are intended to “slow the spread” of the virus in the US following the surge in China and are being implemented because of “the lack of adequate and transparent epidemiological and viral genomic sequence data being reported from” Beijing, the CDC said in a statement. Chinese authorities have stopped publishing daily case tallies, and have narrowed the definition of official Covid cases and deaths.

The Chinese embassy in the US did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Italy, meanwhile, will be testing all passengers arriving from China. Orazio Schillaci, Italy’s health minister, on Wednesday said Rome’s restrictions were “essential to ensure surveillance and detection of possible variants of the virus in order to protect the Italian population”.

Speaking after a cabinet meeting, Schillaci urged the EU to impose a bloc-wide testing requirement. He said Italy had written a request to the European Commission.

“Many Chinese passengers come to Italy from Schengen countries,” he said, referring to the bloc’s free travel area. “It is obvious and important to involve European countries in the initiative.”

Orazio Schillaci
Italy’s health minister Orazio Schillaci is urging the EU to impose a bloc-wide testing requirement for passengers arriving from China © Alessia Pierdomenico/Bloomberg

Italy’s move followed the detection of high rates of Covid infection among passengers on two post-Christmas flights that landed at Milan’s Malpensa airport from China.

On one flight of 92 passengers, 38 per cent tested positive, while on the second flight of 120 passengers, 52 per cent tested positive, a health official from the Lombardy region told reporters.

Italy is desperate to avoid a repeat of March 2020, when it became the first European country to face a serious outbreak of coronavirus that went on to sweep across the world and kill millions of people.

Japan, India and Taiwan have also imposed testing requirements for Chinese arrivals, in anticipation of a wave of visitors after President Xi Jinping’s government scrapped what was left of the zero-Covid regime. Japan will limit arrivals from China and Macau to four designated airports, in Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya, from Friday. South Korea is expected to announce new restrictions including testing the same day.

China is in the grip of an unprecedented Covid wave, with tens of millions of people being infected daily. At the same time, the end of the zero-Covid policy has prompted an increase in demand for international travel after Beijing said on Monday it would lift many remaining measures from January 8. Travel booking site said Chinese outbound bookings were up more than 250 per cent on Tuesday compared with a day earlier.

Chinese foreign affairs ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin on Wednesday called criticisms of the reopening “driven by bias, intended to smear China and politically motivated”.

“Covid response measures need to be science-based and proportionate without affecting normal people-to-people exchange,” he said.

Other countries are also considering restrictions. Jürgen Hardt, foreign affairs spokesperson for Germany’s opposition Christian Democrats, on Wednesday demanded a suspension of all flights from China to Germany.

The “exploding Covid numbers in China threaten the whole world with a new wave of infections”, he told media group RND. “Only when we’re sure that there’s no threat of a new, dangerous mutation out of China should we resume flight connections.”

Sebastian Gülde, spokesperson for the German health ministry, said authorities were “keeping a very close eye on the situation in China”.

“But so far we have no indication that a more dangerous mutation is emerging from this outbreak,” he said. That meant there was no reason to declare China a virus variant area, which would trigger travel restrictions on those arriving from the country.

The UK said it was not considering restrictions for travellers arriving from China.

Additional reporting by Giuliana Ricozzi in Rome, Guy Chazan in Berlin, Jasmine Cameron-Chileshe in London and Song Jung-a in Seoul

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