Italy’s leads the way on China testing. On Wednesday, Rome became the first Western capital to impose mandatory Covid testing for inbound passengers travelling from the Eastern country, where infections are skyrocketing.
- Health Minister Orazio Schillaci argued the new restrictions are “essential to ensure surveillance and detection of possible variants of the virus, in order to protect the Italian population”.
- He also urged the European Commission to impose a blanket testing requirement within the bloc, where people can travel freely across borders, arguing that many Chinese passengers arrive in Italy passing through other member States. “It is obvious and important to involve European countries in the initiative,” he argued.
A brewing crisis? Experts believe the real infection numbers are much higher than what Chinese authorities let on. Nearly half of the passengers on a Beijing-Milan plane landed on December 26 tested positive (even without displaying the symptoms).
- Speaking at a presser on Thursday, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said the first sequencing tests at the Italian airports indicated Omicron variants – which she deemed “quite comforting.” Noting the Covid situation in Italy is “under control,” she nonetheless reiterated Mr Schillaci’s call for a pan-EU solution.
- Meanwhile, on Chinese social media, the Italian Health Minister’s words are trending with over 96 million views. “If we do it is prevention, if others do it is an insult to China,” commented one profile.
Countries follow suit. Hours after Rome’s move, the United States announced it would require negative Covid tests for passengers flying in from China. According to the Center for Disease Control, the measures are designed to slow the spread of the virus and respond to the lack of “adequate and transparent epidemiological and viral genomic sequence data” reported from Beijing.
- When he spoke with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on December 22, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken “underscored the importance of transparency for the international community” with regard to the spread of Covid.
Japan, India, Malaysia and Taiwan also imposed mandatory testing, as they anticipate growing numbers of Chinese visitors, and a host of other countries (including South Korea) is expected to announce similar measures.
- Meanwhile, the EU’s health ministers convened on Thursday to coordinate a joint response. Officials from Austria, France and Germany have signalled their resistance to following Italy’s example.
- The United Kingdom is reportedly considering measures similar to Italy’s.
ICYMI. Following weeks of protests and a sustained economic downturn, China is now in the process of backtracking from its zero-Covid strategy – largely based on containment and monitoring, as homegrown vaccines have proven less successful than their Western counterparts (which are unavailable in the country).
- Beijing will officially end all quarantine and travel limitations, including testing, from January 8. It also ceased publishing daily Covid data and watered down the definition of what constitutes a Covid infection and death.
- Chinese authorities rejected international criticism of its statistics as groundless and politically motivated attempts to undermine its approach, while downplaying the risk of new variants emerging from the country.