BRUSSELS – The European Union on Wednesday “strongly encouraged” its 27 member states to require a negative Covid-19 test for passengers boarding flights from China to the region, amid a surge in coronavirus cases in the country and amid Beijing lifting its draconian travel restrictions. ,

The bloc’s recommendation, an attempt at a unified policy, came after three major European travel destinations – France, Italy and Spain – as well as Britain, introduced testing and other requirements for travelers from China.

The EU move will return a tough pandemic-era measure for travelers that the tourist and aviation industries had hoped was a thing of the past.

The advice states that EU countries “strongly encourage all passengers departing from China to member states not to require a negative COVID-19 test 48 hours prior to departure from China”. Is.”

The statement came from a committee made up of health officials from 27 countries as well as health experts and advisors. This follows an announcement by the United States in late December that travelers from China must have a negative test result within two days of departure.

EU panel, which has been meeting regularly to implement bloc-wide policies regarding travel requirements during the pandemic, resolves to meet again To assess the situation at the end of this month.

“The Member States agreed on a coordinated precautionary approach in light of the development of COVID-19 in China, in particular the need for adequate, reliable data and the easing of travel restrictions by China from 8 January,” the committee statement said. Thought.”

The move brings a sense of déjà vu to Europe, where the worst of the pandemic has been largely brought under control after more than two million deaths, economic destruction and, ultimately, a massive and costly vaccination campaign.

It also threatens to further strain EU-China relations, which are already strained by Russia’s implicit support of China’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Beijing government has dismissed new COVID testing requirements imposed by other countries on travelers arriving from China as unscientific or “excessive” and threatened to retaliate.

Many experts and the World Health Organization have long said that travel restrictions are not a particularly effective means of controlling the spread of the coronavirus. And introducing stricter requirements for passengers could be logistically cumbersome, discriminatory and politically toxic.

Still, the WHO chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said last week that such measures were “understandable” given China’s lack of transparency on its Covid data.

“In the absence of comprehensive information from China, it is understandable that countries around the world are acting in a way that they believe they can protect their populations,” Tedros wrote on Twitter.

european center for disease prevention and control said on Tuesday Reported infections in China had been falling since an all-time high recorded on 2 December, but attributed the decline to a “fewer number of tests being carried out, resulting in fewer infections being detected”.

“There remains a lack of reliable data on the number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, deaths as well as intensive care unit (ICU) capacity and liveability in China,” it added.

The European Union has traditionally been a popular destination for Chinese tourists. and member states are counting on the return of Chinese tourism, The market was then closed for three years, then cheered when the government in Beijing announced it would ease travel restrictions, leading to a boom in overseas travel bookings.

This Sunday, for the first time since the beginning of 2020, the Chinese government will end quarantine rules for people arriving from abroad and ease restrictions on incoming flights.

It has also resumed processing of passport applications from Chinese citizens for overseas tourism. According to data from travel-booking company Group, outbound flight bookings increased by nearly 300 percent on December 27, when the government announced changes to its border restrictions.

“After more than two years of strict Chinese corona measures, the last major barrier to unrestricted freedom of travel has fallen,” said Susanne Krauss-Winkler, Austria’s tourism minister. Said At the end of December.

“For European and Austrian tourism, this heralds the return of the most important Asian source markets for the coming tourist season,” she said.

But the EU has been divided over how to deal with the rising number of cases in China. The biggest concern for European authorities is the potential for a new variant to emerge in China, but experts have warned that forcing visitors to China to test or isolate will not stop the spread of such a variant globally. Should it emerge?

In Italy, sequencing of positive coronavirus samples taken from visitors arriving from China has so far not registered any new variants, health officials said.

And the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, which noted on Tuesday that no new variants had so far been recorded in China, said EU citizens had high levels of immunity and vaccinations against known variants in circulation, Which means that the surge in infections in China was “not challenging to the immune response” of people in Europe.

EU advice on Wednesday, nevertheless, asked governments to conduct random airport tests on passengers arriving from China and to check the waste of planes landing in Europe from China for the presence of the coronavirus variant.

alexandra stevenson Contributed reporting from Hong Kong.

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