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China threatens retaliation against countries imposing COVID tests on travellers

China has threatened “reciprocity” against countries demanding travellers from its shores provide negative COVID tests before boarding flights. It comes as the UK government admitted the measure was only in place because Beijing was not sharing COVID data.

Australia joined the United States, the UK, France, Italy, Spain, Canada in demanding all travellers present a negative test of COVID taken no more than 48 hours before departure. Travellers on flights from mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau into Australia will have to take a supervised, lesser-accurate rapid test and present the paperwork to the airline staff before boarding. The measure begins at 12.01am on January 5.

The measure has incensed China, which is preparing to welcome back international visitors when it scraps its strict mandatory quarantine arrangements that have been in place as part of President Xi Jinping’s zero-COVID strategy.

“We firmly reject using COVID measures for political purposes and will take corresponding measures in response to varying situations via the principle of reciprocity,” China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said.

It was unclear what any reciprocal measure would entail as China already requires a negative PCR test for anyone crossing its borders

French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne defended the tests, saying: “We are in our role, my government is in its role, protecting the French.”

Starting on Wednesday, anyone flying from China to France will have to present a negative virus test taken within the previous 48 hours and be subject to random testing on arrival.

Some Canadian experts have questioned the effectiveness of the testing. Kerry Bowman, assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s Temerty Faculty of Medicine, said people can test positive long after entering the country.

The requirement is “not based on science at this point”, he said after Canada announced measures last weekend.

China, which for most of the pandemic adopted a zero-Covid strategy that imposed harsh restrictions aimed at stamping out the virus, abruptly eased the measures in December.

Authorities had previously said that from January 8, overseas travellers would no longer need to quarantine on arriving in China, paving the way for Chinese residents to travel.

The EU said later that it had offered China help to deal with its Covid-19 crisis, including the donation of vaccines.

Over the past week, EU nations reacted in a series of national measures to the crisis in China, disregarding an earlier commitment to act in unity.

Italy was the first to require coronavirus tests for airline passengers arriving from China, but several others said such measures might not be the best option to protect local populations since new variants coming from China have already been around in Europe, often for many months.

France, Spain and Italy have already announced tougher measures for passengers arriving from China.

France’s government is requiring negative tests, and is urging French citizens to avoid non-essential travel to China. France is also reintroducing mask requirements on flights from China to France.

Spain’s government said it would require all air passengers coming from China to have negative tests or proof of vaccination.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control insisted that the situation in China does not pose an immediate overall threat to health, adding: “The variants circulating in China are already circulating in the EU, and as such are not challenging for the immune response” of EU citizens.

But medical experts from EU member states were already preparing potential action to be taken up by an Integrated Political Crisis Response meeting, where measures like EU-wide entry requirements could be decided.

“Travellers from China need to be prepared for decisions being taken at short notice,” warned Sweden, which holds the EU presidency.

The European Commission said on Tuesday that the bloc had contacted Beijing in the last few days to offer help, including expertise, medical information and vaccine donation.


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