The UK’s response to China’s opening up to foreign travel is “under review,” says the defense secretary.
Ben Wallace made the comments after a government spokesman said there were no plans to introduce mandatory COVID-19 testing for arrivals to the UK from China and a number of countries have imposed controls.
The news follows China’s announcement that it was abandoning its COVID-zero policy and it was is preparing to reopen its borders in January.
There are fears that the end of nearly three years of strict measures in the country of 1.4 billion people could lead to a massive spread of the disease around the world.
Health Minister Will Quince admitted people ‘will be concerned about news coming out of China’ but added: ‘The key thing to watch out for is a new variant, and there is no evidence of a new variant is not already prevalent”. in the UK, but we are keeping the situation under control.”
He also said Health Secretary Steve Barclay had met with the head of the UK’s Health Security Agency Dame Jenny Harries and chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty to discuss the situation.
The European Union’s Health Security Committee has called on bloc member states to coordinate and implement joint measures against COVID-19 as China reopens its borders.
The committee – an informal European-level health security advisory group – said following an emergency meeting on the COVID-19 situation in China that “coordination of national responses to serious cross-border threats to health is key”.
The The United States announced Wednesday that, from January 5, all arrivals from China will be required to provide a negative COVID test result taken no more than two days before the flight.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the move was due to rising infections and a lack of adequate and transparent information from China, particularly about strains circulating in the country.
This came after India, Italy, Taiwan, South Korea, Malaysia and Japan said they would also impose restrictions on travelers arriving from China.
Asked whether the UK government would consider restrictions on travelers from China, Defense Secretary Wallace said: “The government is looking into this, it’s under review, we’ve noticed obviously what the US has done and India and I think Italy looked into it.
“We always keep an eye on, of course, threats to health in the UK, wherever they may be.
“I think the Department of Transportation will take medical advice, talk to the Department of Health and make some decisions depending on what we see coming out of China, but that’s under review right now.”
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A government spokesman earlier said: “There are no plans to reintroduce COVID-19 testing or additional requirements for arrivals in the UK.”
But the UK Health Security Agency will continue to monitor the prevalence and spread of harmful variants and monitor international data, they added.
Beijing’s announcement means millions of Chinese could travel overseas for next month’s Lunar New Year holiday, the first time most of them have been able to travel overseas since 2020.
Travel companies Trip.com and Qunar said international ticket bookings and visa information searches on their websites surged in the wake of the news, with Japan, Thailand, South Korea, the United States, Britain and Australia which are the most in demand.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told the ABC that his country is not making any changes to entry rules at this stage, adding: “…we are continuing to monitor the situation, as we continue to monitor the impact of COVID as well here in Australia and all over the world”.
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New Zealand’s Ministry of Health had a similar response, telling the NZ Herald: “…current public health measures remain appropriate to manage the pandemic.”
In Thailand, the Bangkok Post said the government was preparing to welcome Chinese tourists to the country, quoting Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob who said the public health ministry was working with the Chinese embassy on “travel measures “, although no further details were provided.
He added that he is confident the ministry can handle the COVID situation.
In Singapore, The Straits Times reported that the rules for arrivals from China will remain the same: those who are not fully vaccinated will need to get tested before departure, while short-term visitors must also have medical insurance. related to COVID costs.
The true extent of COVID-19 infections in China is unclear, as there is little reliable official information, but nearly 37 million people may have been infected with the virus in a single day last week, according to Bloomberg news agency. .