Cities across China have struggled with surging infections, a resulting shortage of pharmaceuticals and overflowing hospital wards and crematoriums after Beijing suddenly dismantled its zero-Covid lockdown and testing regime.
Covid cases have spiked in China – and it’s a “mistake” for the UK not to act on travellers coming from the east Asian country, according to a GP.
As concern that lifting Beijing’s zero-Covid policy has exacerbated the already high number of infections, other nations are starting to introduce tighter restrictions around just anyone who has travelled out of China.
For instance, among new arrivals from China who have touched down in Italy’s Milan airport, more than half of them tested positive for Covid – now, all new arrivals have to be tested.
But the UK still hasn’t announced firm rules around visitors from China, even though there are also fears that Beijing government there is not being transparent about how many Covid infections and deaths there have been.
Speaking to ITV’s Good Morning Britain on Thursday, Dr Amir Khan said: “The problem with China is, at the moment, they are dropping their Covid restrictions, particularly along travel routes.
″What we know about China is that they’re not reporting the number of cases, the number of deaths, attributed to Covid in the way that we expect them to, and they’re not sharing that data.
“So what the Chinese authorities are reporting is very different to what the reality is on the ground, and when we’ve seen surges of cases, including huge populations of countries like China, we see new variants arise.
“That is why countries like US and Italy are taking these huge precautions, so when people do come over from China, they have to have a Covid test,” Dr Khan explained, saying this would help make the UK aware of any new variants.
He said it was a “mistake” for Britain not to be testing new arrivals from China – “we should always be one step ahead of this”.
Dr Khan explained: ″We know that things can quickly get out of hand, so testing people arriving, and make them do a PCR test, would be a sensible thing to do.”
On the BBC Radio 4′s Today programme on Thursday morning, Lord James Bethell also suggested the UK do the “sensible thing” the Italians are doing, by imposing post-flight surveillance on new arrivals.
The positive tests then go into quarantine when they arrive. There is also genomic sequencing, which means the variants within the positive cases can be analysed.
Italy has been urging other nations to follow suit, although the EU has so far resisted.
The US, meanwhile, has just imposed mandatory Covid tests on travellers coming in – pre-testing that Bethell has criticised, as trying to stop the virus coming in at all is like “trying to stop the sea”.
There has been some confusion over the UK’s stance after Downing Street initially suggested that travellers from China would not be screened for Covid.
However, defence secretary Ben Wallace said on Thursday that imposing restrictions on visitors from the East Asian country was “under review” and the department of transport would take medical advice before coming to a decision.
Government sources played down his suggestion an announcement was coming and told HuffPost UK there were no plans to introduce requirements for travellers from China.
Health minister Will Quince later clarified during an interview that the “key threat” is whether there is any new Covid variant from China and “there’s no evidence at this point” of one.
He told broadcasters: “A lot of people will be concerned about the news coming out of China.
“The secretary of state for health and social care [Steve Barclay] met with the chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency and the chief medical officer this morning, so it’s being taken incredibly seriously by the government.
“The key threat is any new variant. There’s no evidence at this point of a new variant from China, a variant that is not already prevalent here in the UK.
“But, nevertheless, we’re keeping the situation very much under review.”