‘Majority’ Of EU Wants Tests On Passengers From China

There are concerns that China’s data on infections is incomplete, partial and insufficient.

A passenger wearing a face shield and mask amid the Covid-19 pandemic boards a domestic flight at Shanghai Pudong International Airport in Shanghai on January 3, 2023. (Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL / AFP)

An “overwhelming majority” of the EU’s 27 member countries want passengers coming from China to be systematically tested for Covid before departure, the European Commission said on Tuesday.

The consensus recommendation emerged from a meeting of EU health ministry officials held Tuesday in Brussels.

A crisis meeting to be held Wednesday on the issue will decide what coordinated measures will be applied across the bloc.

The gatherings were called in the wake of China deciding to lift its “zero Covid” policy, which has sparked massive demand for flights to other parts of the world by Chinese citizens and residents who had been grounded for nearly three years.

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The European Union fears a sudden influx of passengers from China could bring Covid variants that may be able to evade current vaccines.

There are also concerns that China’s data on infections is incomplete, partial and insufficient.

“The overwhelming majority of countries are in favour of pre-departure testing,” a commission spokesman said after Tuesday’s meeting.

EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides said the officials also agreed to recommend stepped-up monitoring of wastewater from flights and at airports to detect traces of Covid, and for member states to boost surveillance.

She emphasised the need for EU “unity” at the meeting to take place on Wednesday.

Several EU countries including France, Spain and Italy have already imposed testing requirements on arrivals from China pending a bloc-wide approach.

Beijing has reacted angrily to the increased restrictions, which are also being applied by the United States, Japan and Australia.

China has only recorded 22 Covid deaths since December and has dramatically narrowed the criteria for classifying such deaths — meaning that Beijing’s own statistics about the unprecedented wave are now widely seen as not reflecting reality.

Data compiled by the World Health Organization, upon which the EU relies, shows no fresh Covid figures from China for over a week.

Earlier Tuesday, the commission said an “offer stands” for the EU to provide Covid vaccines and expertise to China.

A spokesman said Kyriakides had repeated the vaccine offer recently and that any supply of them was dependent on Beijing’s reaction.

Many EU countries have a surplus of mRNA vaccines — especially the one made by BioNTech/Pfizer — that scientific studies have shown to be more effective against severe Covid than the inactivated-virus ones China has developed and uses.