Sunday, May 26, 2024
Health

UK Ends Voluntary On-Arrival Testing for Travellers from China

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has recently announced that the information on testing, vaccination, and genomic sequencing results in China indicates that the Covid variants in China are the same as those already circulating in the UK. In addition, the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that all regions in China have passed their infection peak. This news has prompted the DHSC to end the UK Health Security Agency’s (UKHSA) voluntary on-arrival testing programme of travellers from China to Heathrow airport, which was implemented in January to improve Covid surveillance of travellers arriving from China.

During the programme, an average of 99 people per flight were tested, totalling 3,374 passengers. Fourteen positive cases were identified, but none were deemed to be a variant of concern. From 17 March, passengers aged 18 or over travelling from mainland China and arriving at Heathrow Airport will no longer be invited to take a voluntary test on arrival. The government has ended the enhanced surveillance programme in line with international partners such as the EU, who are also reducing border measures to monitor new variants from China.

Despite the ending of the enhanced surveillance programme, officials have assured the public that the government will maintain a range of contingency measures to enable the detection of potential new harmful variants, and to take swift and proportionate action should the need arise. The decision to end the programme only affects English airports, but the government is working with the devolved administrations to ensure that the policy is applied UK-wide.

Last December, the UK government confirmed that passengers arriving to England from China would have to provide a negative Covid test before boarding their flights. At the time, the Chinese government was reporting about 5,000 cases a day, but analysts believed that the numbers were vastly undercounted and that the daily caseload could have been closer to one million. Other countries, such as the US, France, and India, also implemented testing.

In January, China reopened its borders to international visitors for the first time since it imposed travel restrictions in March 2020. Officials declared later that month that the country’s current wave of Covid-19 infections was “coming to an end.” However, China’s National Health Commission stopped publishing data on Covid cases and deaths on 25 December after the relaxation of its zero-Covid policy. In February, the commission declared a “decisive victory” over the pandemic.

In conclusion, the DHSC has announced the end of the voluntary on-arrival testing programme of travellers from China to Heathrow airport, as the information on testing, vaccination, and genomic sequencing results in China indicates that the Covid variants in China are the same as those already circulating in the UK. Despite this, officials have assured the public that the government will maintain a range of contingency measures to enable the detection of potential new harmful variants and to take swift and proportionate action should the need arise. The decision only affects English airports, but the government is working with the devolved administrations to ensure that the policy is applied UK-wide.

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