EU holds emergency Covid meeting as divisions over rules set in

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The EU has called an emergency meeting to address COVID-19 with member states divided on which restrictions, if any, should come into force. The Brussels bloc is scrambling to come up with a joint plan to tackle Covid-positive passengers arriving from China, whose zero-Covid policy of lockdowns has failed to eradicate the virus. 

Moves by several countries to mandate COVID-19 tests for passengers arriving from China reflect global concern that new variants could emerge in its ongoing explosive outbreak — and that the government may not inform the rest of the world quickly enough.

There have been no reports of new variants to date, but China has been accused of not being forthcoming about the virus since it first surfaced in the country in late 2019. The worry is that it may not be sharing data now on any signs of evolving strains that could spark fresh outbreaks elsewhere.

The US, Japan, India, South Korea, Taiwan have announced testing requirements for passengers from China.

The European Commission said Thursday that the BF7 omicron variant prevalent in China was already active in Europe and that its threat has not significantly grown.

“However, we remain vigilant and will be ready to use the emergency brake if necessary,” the EU’s executive arm said in a statement.

Even though virus experts in the EU have played down the immediate danger, Italy on Wednesday made coronavirus tests mandatory for all airline passengers arriving from China.

More than 50 percent of people screened upon arrival at Milan’s Malpensa airport in recent days tested positive for the virus.

Italy is so far the only country in Europe and EU member state to have followed suit with new Covid rules.

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The EU state was also the hardest and the first hit by the pandemic in Europe in 2020.

Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni on Thursday increased pressure on the EU to join Italy’s approach.

She said requiring COVID tests of all passengers from China “is only effective if it is taken at the European level,” noting that many arrive in Italy on connecting flights through other European countries.

In Germany, however, the government had a different position. “There is “no indication that a more dangerous variant has developed in this outbreak in China … which would bring corresponding travel restrictions,” Health Ministry spokesman Sebastian Guelde said.

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A coordinated EU approach is necessary since almost all EU member nations are part of Europe’s visa-free Schengen Area. The unrestricted travel means that testing in one nation would not be very effective since travellers from China could enter from another EU nation and spread the virus.

After strict travel restrictions at the height of the pandemic, the EU returned to a pre-pandemic system of free travel this fall, but member nations agreed that an “emergency brake” could be activated at short notice to meet an unexpected challenge.

The United States announced new COVID-19 testing requirements Wednesday for all travellers from China, joining some Asian nations that had imposed restrictions because of a surge of infections.

Japan will require a negative COVID-19 test upon arrival for travellers from China, and Malaysia announced new tracking and surveillance measures. India, South Korea and Taiwan are requiring virus tests for visitors from China.

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