Europe debates tougher Covid restrictions as half of Chinese arrivals to Italy test positive

Beijing Passengers by Noel Celis/AFP via Getty Images

Beijing Passengers by Noel Celis/AFP via Getty Images

Half of Chinese visitors arriving in Italy by plane have tested positive for Covid, Italian authorities said on Thursday as Europe debated tightening entry restrictions.

The alarmingly high proportion of Chinese tourists tested positive for the virus has prompted Italy to call on other European countries to follow suit – announced Wednesday – of mandatory Covid testing for flights from China.

The scale of the outbreak in China and doubts about official figures have prompted countries including the United States, India and Japan to impose new restrictions on Chinese travelers as Beijing suddenly eased its lockdown rules.

Officials reported that up to half of the Chinese visitors arriving at Milan Malpensa Airport on two flights on December 26 had Covid. According to Guido Bertolaso, a high official of the Lombardy region, around 38 percent of passengers in the first test tested positive, as did 52 percent in the second.

Italian authorities said they would use swabs taken from passengers to try to identify any new variants arriving from China.

Experts from the Spallanzani Institute, Italy’s leading infectious disease hospital, said the measures implemented by the Italian authorities should be replicated in the rest of Europe.

“Fear is in the country [China] with a high percentage of unvaccinated people, where ineffective vaccines were used that provide low protection for the population, such a strong exponential increase in infection could generate the selection of a new variant that is much more evasive and infectious,” the institute said.

In her end-of-year speech on Thursday, Italy’s prime minister Giorgia Meloni called for a decision on whether the rest of the EU should impose mandatory testing on arrivals from China to “do it quickly”.

EU health officials held talks on Thursday to try to coordinate different views on how to respond to China’s decision to lift Covid restrictions.

“Scientifically, there is no reason to reintroduce border controls at this stage,” Brigitte Autran, head of Covars’ French health risk assessment committee, told French radio.

Germany on Wednesday said it saw no need to impose new travel restrictions, while Austria stressed the economic benefits of returning Chinese tourists to Europe.

In the UK, ministers are set to review whether travelers from China should be subject to Covid restrictions amid growing concern about passengers importing the virus.

China’s borders have been almost closed to foreigners since early 2020, shortly after the virus first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan, but China has announced that it will stop requiring travelers entering the country to self-quarantine from January 8.

This will increase the number of overseas travel by Chinese citizens, who will no longer have to spend time in quarantine when they return home.

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