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Travellers walk with their luggage at Beijing Capital International Airport, BeijingReuters

The UK government is reviewing whether to introduce Covid restrictions on visitors from China, the defence secretary has said.

Ben Wallace said he expected to see clarification from the Department for Transport “in the next day or so”.

Earlier, an ex-health minister urged the government to consider testing arrivals from China for Covid.

A number of countries are introducing mandatory testing in response to China’s coronavirus surge.

Asked whether the government would consider restrictions, Mr Wallace said: “The government is looking at that, it’s under review, we noticed obviously what the US has done and India and I think Italy has looked at it.”

“We keep under review all the time, obviously, health threats to the UK, wherever they may be.”

He said the Department for Transport would take medical advice and talk to the Department of Health before reaching a decision.

A number of countries – including the US, Japan and Italy – are now enforcing testing on visitors from China.

This follows a surge in cases in China after Beijing’s decision to effectively end its zero-Covid policy.

Lord Bethell, who was health minister during the pandemic, said there was a good reason to look at testing people when they land, a policy Italy has adopted.

“What the Italians are doing is post-flight surveillance of arrivals in Italy, in order to understand whether there are any emerging variants and to understand the impact of the virus on the Italian health system,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“That is a sensible thing to do and something the British government should be seriously looking at.”

He added: “You’ve got to appreciate that a lot of people who get on these flights, we know from experience, will be people who are poorly themselves and are coming to the West for medical help.

“That is quite a daunting prospect for our healthcare system and it’s important that we know which of them have got the virus and what kind of virus they’ve got.”

However, he cast doubt on the policy of pre-flight testing, as the Americans are doing. This is designed to slow the spread of the virus, but Lord Bethell said trying to contain coronavirus was “like trying to stop the sea”.

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Analysis box by Michelle Roberts, health editor

There are concerns that a new variant may emerge in China and that international travel could quickly spread it.

When there is lots of virus circulating in any population, there will be opportunities for it to change or mutate in potentially harmful ways.

Covid is circulating in lots of countries around the world.

According to latest estimates for the UK, one in every 45 people in Britain is infected.

Vaccines are saving lives but they can’t stop infections. Instead, experts are tracking the virus and seeing if the vaccines need updating to be a better match for any significant new mutations. So far, science is keeping up with the virus and there are no particularly worrying new variants.

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China is reporting about 5,000 cases a day, but analysts say such numbers are vastly undercounted – and the daily caseload may be closer to one million.

Prof Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, said he did not think the current situation in China was likely to generate many more Covid cases in the UK or elsewhere in the world.

While China was in a “dark” and “difficult” place, the current evidence suggested the particular variant causing most infections in the country was “very common elsewhere in the world”, he told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme on Wednesday. The UK has seen many such cases since it appeared in the summer, he added.

On Wednesday, the US said a lack of “adequate and transparent” Covid data in China had contributed to the decision to require Covid tests from 5 January for travellers entering the country from China, Hong Kong and Macau.

Others countries have also announced restrictions:

  • In Japan, from Friday, travellers from China will be tested for Covid on arrival. Those who test positive will have to quarantine for up to seven days
  • In India, people travelling from China and four other Asian countries must produce a negative Covid test before arriving. Positive passengers will also be put in quarantine
  • Taiwan says people arriving on flights from China, as well as by boat at two islands, will have to take Covid tests on arrival throughout January. Those who test positive can isolate at home
  • Malaysia has put additional tracking and surveillance measures in place
  • Italy has also imposed mandatory Covid testing on travellers from China

The European Commission said its health security committee was convening on Thursday to discuss “possible measures for a coordinated EU approach”.

Beijing’s foreign ministry has said coronavirus rules should only be put in place on a “scientific” basis and accused Western countries and media of “hyping up” the situation.

China only announced on Monday its decision to end quarantine for arrivals – effectively reopening travel in and out of the country for the first time since March 2020.

Source: BBC

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