EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides on Friday urged health ministers across the bloc to assess their coronavirus protocols and be well prepared amidst a surge in infections in China.
Health ministers of the 27 Member States should immediately assess current national practices on the coronavirus, Kyriakides said.
According to the letter, Kyriakides noted that the European Commission was closely monitoring developments in China regarding the worrying increases in Covid-19 cases there and the potential impact on travel from China to EU member states when the new Chinese travel regulations come into force in early January.
She added it was important to continue or initiate surveillance of wastewater, which would include wastewater from key airports.
If a new variant of the SARS-CovV2 virus emerges – either in China or the EU – it should be detected “early so that we are prepared to respond quickly,” she said in the letter.
Kyriakides stressed that it was important to jointly assess the potential impact of the evolving situation and that there was a need for good preparation to protect the health of European citizens.
For this reason, she called an emergency meeting of the EU Health Security Committee, which was held on Thursday with more than 100 representatives of member states online, EU agencies such as the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, the European Medicines Agency and the World Health Organisation.
According to the briefing received, the meeting showed a broad consensus that EU countries needed to act in a coordinated way if measures are to be effective.
During the meeting, some member states proposed measures such as random screening of travellers.
At EU level, Kyriakides said some “key messages” are expected in the coming days for EU travellers planning to travel to China, for those coming from China to the EU, and for airline and airport staff.
She added that she will continue efforts to contact her Chinese counterparts to express the willingness to provide support to address the current situation.
Chinese state-media on Friday railed against the growing number of foreign governments imposing Covid tests on travellers from China, calling the measures “discriminatory.”
Having kept its borders all but shut for three years, imposing a strict regime of lockdowns and relentless testing, Beijing abruptly reversed course toward living with the virus on December 7, and infections have spread rapidly in recent weeks.
France will require travellers from China to provide a negative COVID-19 test result less than 48 hours before departure, the health and transport ministries said on Friday.
The test will be required on all flights from China, including flights with stopovers. Travellers on airplanes arriving from China will also have to wear masks.
France did not set a start date for the measures but will publish a government decree and notify European Union member states, the ministries said.
A government source told Reuters it would take “a little while” for the mandatory testing to be put in place.
From Jan. 1, France will also carry out random PCR COVID tests upon arrival on some travellers coming from China, a government official told reporters.
The government also recommended that people with weak immune systems delay non-essential travel to China.
Late on Friday, the UK said that passengers arriving to England from China from January 5 will need to show a negative COVID-19 pre-departure test, taken no more than two days prior to departure, according to a statement.
Airlines will be required to check all passengers from China for tests, and passengers will not be allowed to board a flight without providing evidence of a negative test result, it added.
The Times and The Telegraph reported on Friday that British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has weighed in to take the step.
The reports come after some other countries, including the United States and India, imposed COVID-19 tests for travellers from China. France, South Korea and Spain have also done so.
Chinese state media on Friday called the imposition of COVID tests by various countries on travellers arriving from China “discriminatory”.
The moves come after doubts over the transparency of official data from Beijing raised concerns about a wave of infections.
China has rejected criticism of its COVID-19 statistics and said it expects mutations to be more infectious but less severe.
Malaysia said it would screen all international arrivals for fever.
“The real intention is to sabotage China’s three years of Covid-19 control efforts and attack the country’s system,” state-run tabloid Global Times said in an article late on Thursday, calling the restrictions “unfounded” and “discriminatory.”
China will stop requiring inbound travellers to go into quarantine from Jan. 8. But it will still demand a negative PCR test result within 48 hours before departure.
Senior Chinese health officials held a video conference with the World Health Organisation on Friday and exchanged views the current epidemic situation, China’s National Health Commission said in a statement without elaborating further.
WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said earlier in the day that the organization needed more information to assess the latest surge in infections in China, without taking a position on the issue of travel tests.
Not all countries are imposing tests. European Union members, in particular, are divided.
Over the past days, officials in Germany and Portugal have said they saw no need for now for new restrictions, while Austria has stressed the economic benefits of Chinese tourists’ return to Europe.
Global spending by Chinese visitors was worth more than $250 billion a year before the pandemic.
Acting a day after EU health officials failed to agree on a joint course of action, Spain followed Italy’s lead to become the second of the bloc’s 27 members to require tests for travellers from China.
“At a national level, we will implement airport controls requiring all passengers coming from China to show a negative Covid-19 test or proof of a full vaccination course,” Health Minister Carolina Darias said.
EU health experts are expected to hold a crisis response meeting next week, according to an EU source.