EU states resist joining Italy on Covid testing for arrivals from China

Member states of the European Union have resisted pressure from Italy to immediately impose mandatory anti-Covid checks on travellers entering the borderless Schengen area from China, with health officials in Brussels saying they would instead continue to monitor the consequences of Beijing’s rapid rollback of its previously stringent hygiene restrictions.

In recent days more than 50% of passengers from China at Milan’s Malpensa airport have tested positive for the virus, and on Wednesday Italy brought back mandatory coronavirus tests for everyone arriving from China, after reports of rising infection rates in the world’s most populous country.

However, on Thursday Italy’s far-right premier, Giorgia Meloni, said no new concerning Covid-19 mutations had been found among those arriving so far, with about half the samples sequenced.

Meloni argued that requiring Covid tests for all passengers from China was “only effective if it is taken at the European level’’, noting that many people arrive in Italy on connecting flights through other European countries.

Meloni’s deputy and transport minister, Matteo Salvini, tweeted that “Italy cannot be the only country to carry out anti-Covid checks at airports for those arriving from China”, urging such measures to be applied “throughout Europe”.

Earlier this month China performed a U-turn on its management of the Covid-19 pandemic, reversing tough restrictions and allowing the virus to rapidly spread across a country that has not been exposed to the virus since the initial outbreak in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

While there have been no news of new variants developing in China, there have been concerns that the country’s authoritarian government would be slow to share such information with the rest of the world, leading the US, Japan, India, South Korea and Taiwan to introduce testing requirements for Chinese travellers.

Officials in Berlin, Paris and Brussels were more cautious over sounding the alarm over the latest developments in China.

“We are watching the situation in China with great care,” a spokesperson for the German health ministry said on Wednesday. “Currently we see no indication that the Chinese outbreak is developing a more dangerous mutation that would give us reason to declare it a virus variant region.”

“We need more transparency from China regarding the current situation, because new variants can develop”, said Andrew Ullmann of Germany’s liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) in an interview with Der Spiegel. “But I reject general bans on travel or flights from China”.

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“From a scientific point of view, there is no reason at this stage to bring back controls at the borders,” said Brigitte Autran, head of the French health risk assessment committee Covars.

Autran, who advises the government on epidemiological risks, told French Radio Classique on Thursday that the situation could change at any time but that for now there were no signs of worrying new variants in China.

The European Commission said on Thursday that the BF.7 Omicron variant prevalent in China was already active in Europe and that its threat has not significantly grown.

“However, we remain vigilant and will be ready to use the emergency brake if necessary,” the EU’s executive arm said in a statement.