On Thursday January 5th, Airlines for Europe (A4E) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA), released a statement lamenting the EU member states’ agreement to recommend a negative Covid test for passengers traveling from China to the EU.
The statement came after an emergency meeting of the Council’s Integrated Political Crisis Response (IPCR) took place on Wednesday January 4th to establish a coordinated approach to address the surge of Covid cases in China. EU Member States had previously been divided over the necessity of pre-departure testing of travelers coming from China.
Following the recommendation from the Commission’s Health Security Committee, government officials agreed on the necessity of pre-departure testing. The decision was taken in light of the Asian country’s decision to relax its travel restrictions and quarantine rules as of January 8th, despite a rise in the number of Covid cases on its territory.
The Member States agreed on a coordinated precautionary approach in the light of Covid developments in China.Swedish Presidency of the Council of the European Union
A4E and IATA argue that the recommendation for testing is at odds with the assessment published by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) on 3 January 2023. Both organizations sustain that the current surge of Covid cases in China is not expected to impact the epidemiological situation in the EU/EEA. Instead, they are lobbying for the alternative of testing wastewater from airports and aircraft arriving from China, which would reduce uncertainty and lower the hurdles for travelers.
Besides the requirement for a negative Covid test taken not more than 48 hours before departure from China, EU states are encouraged to conduct random on arrival testing of passengers and the sequence all positive results to strengthen surveillance of the epidemiological situation. Testing and sequencing of wastewater from airports with international flights and aircraft arriving from China is also strongly recommended.
The Council reminds countries to continue to promote vaccine sharing and the uptake of vaccines, including booster doses, among their own citizens, particularly for vulnerable groups. The IPCR recommends all passengers on flights to and from China to wear a medical mask or FFP2/N95/KN95 respirators and decided Member States will start issuing advice to incoming and outgoing international travelers coming from or destined for China.
Thirteen countries were already imposing restrictions, and Germany joined the list on January 5th. According to Politico, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said Germany would mandate “at least a rapid test” before departure. Spot tests would also be conducted to look for new coronavirus variants.
Meanwhile, China has expressed its discontent regarding the new recommendation, calling them political rather than science bases. Authorities have promised similar measures in return. “We do not believe the entry restriction measures some countries have taken against China are science-based. Some of these measures are disproportionate and simply unacceptable,” a spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry said at a press conference. “We firmly reject using Covid measures for political purposes and will take corresponding measures in response to varying situations based on the principle of reciprocity.”
Though the recommendations and preventive measures are not as strict as during the peak of the pandemic, the commercial aviation industry has been quick to express its disapproval. “It is extremely disappointing to see this knee-jerk reinstatement of measures that have proven ineffective over the last three years,” Willie Walsh, IATA director general, said.