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The EU has agreed on a response to China's COVID wave, but it is not mandatory

It comes after a series of scattered answers from EU member states.

In response to the COVID wave presently enveloping China, European officials have agreed on a slew of travel-related measures, including facemasks, pre-flight testing, and wastewater surveillance, raising the threat of retaliatory action from Beijing.

However, none of the agreed-upon measures are mandatory, so individual countries must determine whether or not to apply them.

National diplomats decided on a "coordinated precautionary approach" at a crisis conference in Brussels on Wednesday, according to a statement issued by the Swedish presidency.

The officials agreed that EU countries would propose that all passengers on flights to and from China use high-quality face masks, and that they would provide flyers with hygiene and health information.

However, the phrasing of the remaining actions gives countries a lot of leeway. They are "highly urged" to require negative pre-departure testing 48 hours before leaving China, as well as "encouraged" to test individuals arriving from China at random and sequence positive results.

Countries are also "encouraged" to analyse and sequence wastewater samples collected from Chinese airports and planes, as well as to boost vaccine-sharing and immunisation efforts.

If adopted, the measures risk reprisal from China, which warned this week that any restrictions on Chinese travellers were "unacceptable" and would result in "countermeasures." Despite even stronger travel restrictions for arrivals to China since the outbreak's commencement, which eased slightly on January 8.

Despite a lack of scientific consensus on whether such steps will lessen the danger of another variation arriving in Europe, there has been pressure to implement them.

“Lots of countries actually want a restrictive approach a lot, but scientific evidence is not too supportive of this,” one diplomat commented.

Peter Piot, the Commission's special adviser and former head of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said he was "pleased" that member states now agree that "Person-oriented limitations, rather than a complete travel ban, should be imposed on COVID visitors arriving from China. "Not responding now, in the absence of accurate information from China, would be difficult to understand given the precautionary principle," Piot added.

The integrated political crisis response (IPCR) meeting brought together national diplomats working in the domains of health and border controls to finalise these measures, which were written by health ministers during two prior sessions over the previous week.

The concerted approach follows unilateral travel restrictions imposed by numerous EU members, notably Italy, Spain, and France. The United Kingdom likewise demands pre-departure tests, citing a lack of accurate data from China. Similar limits have been enacted in the United States, Japan, and India, while Morocco has completely prohibited Chinese immigrants.

By mid-January, EU governments agreed to reassess the situation and revise these measures.



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