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EU health agency says mandatory COVID screening for China travelers 'unjustified'

A traveller wearing protective clothing is seen at a train station in Beijing, China, on December 28, 2022. (Photo by AFP)

The European Union's health agency has slammed the introduction of mandatory COVID screenings of travelers from China as "unjustified" despite an unprecedented surge in coronavirus infections in the country.

In a statement on Thursday, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said it considered "screenings and travel measures on travelers from China unjustified."

The bloc further justified its stance by citing prevalent “higher immunity in the European Union” and deemed COVID a threat that has not grown.

"Given higher population immunity in the EU/EEA, as well as the prior emergence and subsequent replacement of variants currently circulating in China by other Omicron sub-lineages in the EU/EEA, a surge in cases in China is not expected to impact the COVID-19 epidemiological situation in the EU/EEA," it said.

The ECDC stated that infections imported from China were "rather low" compared to the number of infections already prevalent in EU countries. 

It comes as hospitals across China have been overwhelmed by a fresh wave of COVID infections after Beijing lifted strict rules that hit the country's economy and sparked widespread protests.

Earlier this week, Chinese authorities decided to end mandatory quarantine on arrival, prompting many Chinese to make plans to travel abroad.

India, Japan, Taiwan, Italy and the US are among the countries that have introduced mandatory COVID-19 tests on all travelers from China.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said she "expects and hopes" for Rome's measures to be implemented on an EU level, adding that her country's efforts to curb COVID-19 transmissions from China would be undermined if other EU countries did not follow suit.

"Italy cannot be the only country to carry out anti-COVID checks at airports for those arriving from China," said Matteo Salvini, Italy's deputy prime minister and transport minister. "I have asked that checks and possible limitations be applied throughout Europe."

Meanwhile, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said testing visitors from China, Hong Kong and Macau was needed "to help slow the spread of the virus as we work to identify... any potential new variants that may emerge".

"It is crucial that the EU acts united and in coordination regarding any possible public health measures in view of the situation in China," a commission spokesperson told AFP.

The commission would "continue to facilitate discussions between member states", the spokesperson added.

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