UK defends refusing to make Chinese travellers isolate if they arrive with Covid

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Covid rules for people travelling to England from China are changing from Thursday (stock photo) (Image: Getty Images)
Covid rules for people travelling to England from China are changing from Thursday (stock photo) (Image: Getty Images)

The UK government has defended refusing to make Chinese travellers isolate if they arrive in England with Covid.

People flying from mainland China to England will be asked to take a pre-departure test from Thursday - and won’t be allowed to board a plane if they test positive.

Rishi Sunak performed the major U-turn amid a surge of cases in China - after years of ‘zero-Covid’ measures were eased by President Xi.

Some of those travellers will then be offered a second Covid test on arrival to England.

But this second test will only be voluntary for “surveillance”, and if it comes back positive, people will not have to quarantine or isolate.

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The Lib Dems accused the government of “muddled thinking”, telling The Independent: “Ministers must learn from past failures.”

But Downing Street today insisted the approach is consistent - because Britain is “living with Covid”, and British people in the UK who test positive do not have to isolate.

Evidence suggests China’s Covid variants match those that are already circulating in the UK and elsewhere in Europe, No10 added.

UK defends refusing to make Chinese travellers isolate if they arrive with CovidPassengers from Hong Kong into Manchester Airport (stock photo). Hong Kong is currently exempted (Andy Stenning/Daily Mirror)

Instead people with respiratory infections are urged to stay at home, and if they have to go out, it’s suggested they wear a mask.

PM Rishi Sunak’s official spokesman said: “We have introduced this precautionary and temporary measure to detect potential new variants of Covid from China.

“So that means people traveling from mainland China, on flights to England from January 5 will be required to take a pre-departure Covid test.

“Passengers will not be allowed to board a flight without providing evidence of a negative test result.

“It's important to distinguish that from the surveillance program the UKHSA are working on, which will see people on arrival being asked to provide a test.

“There'll be a sample of passengers in that instance being tested for Covid and that's for surveillance, to help with spotting any potential new variants.”

He added: “In line with existing rules for the population in England, where currently latest estimates show around one in 45 people had Covid, they will not be asked to [isolate].”

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Meanwhile, the UK government is still “working on” closing loopholes in the policy.

Britain is still looking at whether to include Hong Kong - which is currently exempt - in the pre-departure test rule.

The UK is also still looking at whether and how to slap pre-departure tests on travellers who take an indirect route from China to Britain.

UK defends refusing to make Chinese travellers isolate if they arrive with CovidMedical staff of the emergency department in the Sixth People's Hospital of Chengdu make efforts to treat COVID-19 patients last week (REX/Shutterstock)

The spokesman denied it was a “huge gamble” and said there are “no plans to review” the booster programme, which goes to over-50s and priority groups.

Downing Street also confirmed Britain won’t slap pre-departure tests on any country where Covid surges - even if its cases are worse than China.

“Part of the reason for this was because of a lack of comprehensive health information being shared,” the PM’s spokesman said.

“Obviously, we do enjoy very good relationships with a number of other countries in this sense.”

Beijing has condemned the introduction of Covid-19 testing on passengers arriving in countries such as the UK from China.

Chinese officials said that "entry restrictions adopted by some countries targeting China lack scientific basis" and that the country could impose counter-measures.

Dan Bloom

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