Covid travel restrictions are back. From January 5, every traveler traveling from mainland China to England will be required to provide a negative test result before being allowed to board the plane and may face a second test upon arrival.
The government announced the measures on Friday evening – a day after saying there were no plans to reintroduce Covid testing.
What exactly is the government proposing – and why?
Passengers arriving from mainland China, excluding Hong Kong, to England from January 5 will be required to take a Covid-19 test no later than two days before departure and show the negative result to airline staff when checking in. the record.
The only flights from mainland China currently arrive at London Heathrow, but the intention is to do so across the UK.
After landing, passengers can be randomly selected for a second test, “to improve existing measures to monitor new variants”.
Since China abandoned its “zero Covid” policy, the virus has spread extremely rapidly across the People’s Republic. Beijing plans to ease border restrictions next week, allowing more citizens to leave.
The British government fears that the sudden changes will increase the risk of a dangerous variant arriving. This concern is shared by Italy, the United States, Japan and a growing number of other countries which have introduced testing requirements.
Haven’t we been told the Covid restrictions are over?
Yes. Last March, then Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the UK was ‘leading the world in removing all remaining Covid travel restrictions’ and thus ‘keeping international travel moving’ .
The government said it would ‘keep a range of contingency measures in reserve’ but only deploy them ‘in extreme circumstances’ to delay any future harmful variants of Covid entering the UK if needed.
On Thursday, the government told me emphatically: ‘There are no plans to reintroduce Covid testing or additional requirements for arrivals in the UK.
But now ministers are imposing what are called ‘precautionary and temporary measures’.
Why only China, when many other countries have high levels of Covid?
Covid is tearing China apart and the government in Beijing plans to ease its border restrictions next week, allowing more citizens to leave.
Ministers here say the travel restrictions are needed to detect “any new variants that may be circulating in China that may evade the immune response of people already vaccinated or have the potential to successfully outcompete other variants and spread internationally”.
They are concerned about what they say is Beijing’s reluctance to share data on the spread of the virus. But the UK government says it is ‘working with China on next steps’ and the measures will be reviewed ‘if there are improvements in information sharing and greater transparency’.
Are there many people coming to the UK from China?
No. According to aviation analysis company Cirium, six non-stop flights with 1,795 seats are expected in the UK from China over the next week. Planes will arrive from Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Qingdao. To put that into perspective, more than 10 times as many people come from New York alone every day.
There are, however, three daily flights to London Heathrow from Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific and British Airways – and it is unclear whether people traveling from other parts of China to Hong Kong will be challenged.
Many passengers between China and the UK travel via the Gulf, particularly Dubai and Doha, and it is unclear whether they will be screened.
If someone arriving from China tests positive for Covid, what happens next?
The UK Health Security Agency is launching a surveillance from Sunday January 8 which will see randomly selected arrivals from mainland China tested for Covid at the airport.
The government says, “All positive samples will be sent for sequencing.” But at this stage, there is no indication that arrivals with Covid will have to self-isolate or quarantine at the hotel – which is what positive cases arriving in Japan from China must do.
How worried should the British public be?
The government says there is no evidence of potentially harmful variants in circulation.
Professor Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser at the UK Health Security Agency, said: “Evidence suggests the recent rise in cases in China is due to low natural immunity and low uptake of vaccines, including reminders, rather than the emergence of new variants of Covid-19.
“But in order to improve our intelligence, we are strengthening our surveillance, in addition to our current routine testing protocol.”
How has the travel industry reacted to this decision?
With anger in some circles. China is extremely important for global tourism and business travel. Before the pandemic, it accounted for a fifth of all international spending. The travel industry has been eagerly awaiting a rapid increase in the number of Chinese venturing overseas to help with their financial recovery.
Clive Wratten, chief executive of the Business Travel Association, called the decision “a blow to the entire travel industry” and “a huge step backwards for customer and business confidence”. He said Britain could “gradually return to an isolated island”.
But Paul Charles, chief executive of The PC Agency, said: ‘This is a sensitive and targeted light touch measure that ensures those leaving China are Covid-negative. It also buys time for the UK government to collect and assess more information on the extent of Covid in the country themselves.
“This measure will help prevent any future broader measures that would be detrimental to travel in general.”
Could Covid testing be spreading?
It is clearly a possibility. China is a special case of a large population in which Covid infections are extremely high and with a lack of openness from health authorities.
But following the government’s rapid U-turn on China, if other countries are seen as posing a threat due to high infection levels or fears of dangerous variants, then pressure could increase to expand controls again. .
The World Health Organization insists: “Travel bans will not prevent international spread, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods.”