Travellers from China who test positive for Covid will not have to isolate in UK, says minister

Australia and Canada on Sunday became the latest countries to enforce travel restrictions on arrivals from China (AFP via Getty Images)
Australia and Canada on Sunday became the latest countries to enforce travel restrictions on arrivals from China (AFP via Getty Images)

Travellers from China who test positive for Covid-19 when they arrive in the UK will not have to quarantine, a Cabinet minister confirmed on Tuesday.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper said the move to test those coming into the country on flights from China was about "collecting information" because the Beijing government refuses to be transparent with its own coronavirus data.

However, testing for those arriving at Heathrow - the only UK airport with direct flights from China reportedly offering tests, will be voluntary.

Mr Harper, asked if those who test positive after arriving in the UK will be required to isolate, told LBC: "No, because what we are doing is we are collecting that information for surveillance purposes."

He added that there are "very high levels of vaccination" in the UK and encouraged older, more vulnerable people to "get their fourth booster shot this winter".

The government said airlines will be required to check that passengers from China have a negative Covid test before departure from Thursday.

Australia and Canada on Sunday became the latest countries to enforce travel restrictions on arrivals from China.

They joined a number of others nations - including the UK, US, India, Spain, South Korea and France.

The concern stems from the Bejing government relaxing restrictions following three years of a strict Covid-zero policy that kept borders closed and saw harsh local lockdowns.

The country has reportedly seen a surge of new cases and hospitalisations since the rule change, sparking fears of new variants emerging.

Other governments have argued that a lack of information about variants from China, and its refusal to share Covid data, is putting the world at risk of a massive wave of reinfections.

China has denied the claim, adding that it expects new variants to be more infectious but less severe.

Bejing will continue to require a negative PCR test before departure for arrivals into its own country, but has said it will stop insisting infected arrivals to go into quarantine from January 8.

Mr Harper, who campaigned against stringent Covid restrictions from the backbenches during the pandemic, said: "The policy for arrivals from China is primarily about collecting information that the Chinese government is not sharing with the international community."

Under measures announced by Health Secretary Steve Barclay, passengers flying from China into England from Thursday will be required to take a Covid test before boarding a plane.

The Government will also carry out surveillance testing of a sample of passengers to try to spot new variants of the virus which could pose a threat.

There are no direct flights from China to Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland but ministers said they are working with the devolved administrations to implement the measures UK-wide.

Mr Harper called Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's approach a "sensible, balanced proposition" to deal with the potential spread of Covid from China.

"This is about a country, China, which isn't sharing the health data with the global health system that we expect everybody to do,” he said.

"That is why we have put this temporary precautionary measure in place as China opens up its borders.

"We are doing two things: we are requiring people who fly from China to have a pre-departure test so they have got to show that they are negative before they get on that flight, and when they get to the United Kingdom, the UK Health Security Agency will take a sample of passengers and test them.

"That is so that we get that information into our health system and we can track the virus that is coming from China.

"That, I think, is a very sensible, balanced proposition which I think helps keep people in the UK safe but doesn't put any restrictions on how people in the UK are able to operate."