Former health minister urges rethink on Covid tests for China arrivals

Former health minister Lord Bethell has urged the Government to follow Italy in introducing Covid tests for visitors from China.

The comments from the Tory peer, who was in post during the pandemic, put further pressure on ministers to rethink their policy after saying they had “no plans” to impose tests.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Lord Bethell praised Italy’s “sensible” approach of quarantining those who test positive on arrival.

This strategy would allow results to be trusted and for genomic testing to be carried out to understand whether any new variants are emerging, he said.

“I think there are two different reasons to bring in testing – one is the American approach which is pre-testing to slow the spread.

“That is a difficult thing to do because containing a virus like Covid is like trying to stop the sea.

“But what the Italians are doing is post-flight surveillance of arrivals in Italy in order to understand whether there are any emerging variants and… the impact of the virus on the Italian health system.”

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

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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.”

Lord Bethell’s comments come after the US joined Italy, India, Taiwan, South Korea, Malaysia and Japan in announcing new measures after the abrupt end of Beijing’s zero-Covid policy sparked a surge in cases.

However, a Government spokesman said: “There are no plans to reintroduce Covid-19 testing or additional requirements for arrivals into the UK.”

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In a statement explaining the restrictions, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cited the surge in infections and what it said was a lack of adequate and transparent information from China, including genomic sequencing on the viral strains circulating in the country.

Italy is so far the only country in Europe and EU member state to have set the new Covid rules.

According to the BBC, the European Commission said its health security committee will convene on Thursday to discuss “possible measures for a co-ordinated EU approach” to China’s Covid situation.