Nations tighten COVID rules for China flights

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PARIS, Jan 1, (Agencies): France, Spain and England will implement tougher COVID-19 measures for passengers arriving from China, authorities said Friday. France’s government is requiring negative tests, and is urging French citizens to avoid nonessential travel to China. France is also reintroducing mask requirements on flights from China to France. French health authorities will carry out random PCR tests at airports on passengers arriving from China to identify potential new coronavirus variants. The new rules take effect on Sunday, but officials said it would be a few days before they are fully in place. The U.K. government announced that anyone traveling to England on direct flights from China would be required to take a pre-departure test from Jan. 5.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay said that the U.K. was taking a “balanced and precautionary approach.” He described the measures as “temporary” while officials assess COVID-19 statistics. France and Spain said they would continue to push for a Europe-wide policy. France’s hospitals have struggled in recent weeks with a large number of patients because of three concurrent outbreaks: the seasonal flu, a wave of bronchitis cases and COVID-19. Earlier, Spain’s government said it would require all air passengers coming from China to have negative tests or proof of vaccination. Health Minister Carolina Darías told reporters that Spain would be pushing for similar measures at a European level following the surge in cases in China. She said coronavirus health controls would be stepped up at Spanish airports. Darías didn’t specify when the new requirement would take effect.

Spain made the announcement after Italy said it would require coronavirus tests for airline passengers from China. Health officials from the 27-member European Union on Thursday promised to continue talks on seeking a common approach but held back from imposing restrictions. “There exists a shared concern internationally and nationally over the evolution of cases in China and the difficulty to make a correct evaluation of the COVID-19 situation given the scant information that we have available,” Darías said. Darías noted that China would be lifting travel restrictions from Jan. 8 and there was likely to be a major increase in people traveling abroad. She said the chief concern was the possible emergence of new coronavirus variants and it was important to act fast.

The United States announced new COVID-19 testing requirements Wednesday for travelers from China, joining some Asian nations that had imposed restrictions. Japan on Friday started requiring tests for passengers arriving from China. Belgium is following the advice of the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC), concerning visitors from China, Belgian Health minister Frank Vandenbroucke announced on Thursday. This means no restrictions will be imposed on incoming travellers from China, he told the Belgian media.

According to an ECDC statement, Chinese visitors are not a problem because Europeans are generally well-protected, and health systems can handle the pressure. ECDC said it did not currently believe the surge in cases in China would impact the epidemiological situation in the EU “given higher population immunity in the EU, as well as the prior emergence and subsequent replacement of variants currently circulating in China.” Consequently, the agency considered “screenings and travel measures on travelers from China unjustified.” Japan on Friday started requiring COVID-19 tests for all passengers arriving from China as an emergency measure against surging infections there as the Asian island country faces its own rising case numbers and record-level deaths.

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