brussels – The European Union is assessing an increase in COVID-19 cases in China after Beijing rolled back strict anti-infection controls in an attempt to simplify testing of Chinese travelers from the 27 EU countries.
The European Commission said on Thursday that the BF7 omicron variant popular in China was already active in Europe and that its threat had not increased significantly.
“However, we remain vigilant and ready to use the emergency brakes if necessary,” the EU’s executive arm said in a statement.
Italy on Wednesday made coronavirus testing mandatory for all airline passengers arriving from China, even as EU virus experts downplayed the imminent danger. In recent days, more than 50% of people tested positive for the virus upon arrival at Milan Malpensa airport.
Italian Prime Minister Giorgio Meloni put pressure on the European Union on Thursday to join Italy. Requiring COVID testing for all passengers arriving from China “only works at a European level,” she said, noting that many arrived in Italy via other European countries.
In Germany, however, the government’s position is different. Sebastian Gould, a spokesman for the Ministry of Health, said: “There is no indication that a more dangerous variant has emerged in this outbreak in China … which will bring corresponding travel restrictions.”
As almost all EU member states are part of Europe’s visa-free Schengen area, a harmonized EU approach is necessary. Unrestricted travel means testing in one country won’t be very effective, as travelers from China could enter and spread the virus from another EU country.
The European Union returned to its pre-pandemic free travel regime this autumn after imposing strict travel restrictions at the height of the pandemic, but member states agreed that the “emergency brakes” could be activated at short notice to deal with unexpected challenges.
The United States announced new COVID-19 testing requirements for all travelers from China on Wednesday, joining some Asian countries that have imposed restrictions as infections surge.
Japan will require travelers from China to test negative for COVID-19 on arrival, and Malaysia announced new tracking and surveillance measures. India, South Korea and Taiwan have required virus testing for travelers from China.
Colleen Barry from Milan and Geir Moulson from Berlin
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