Airline chief hits out at Chinese travel restrictions

The head of the International Air Transport Association has criticised what he describe as the “knee-jerk” reactions taken by some countries to impose new restrictions on Chinese travellers due to a new rise in COVID infections.

It comes after the Chinese government warned it was considering action against the growing number of countries which are demanding that Chinese travellers take COVID tests before embarking on international travel amid fears that infection rates were increasing significantly in the country.

The World Health Organisation met with Chinese officials last week to discuss the rise in infections rates and call for greater levels of data in an effort to understand the  current situation.

“A high-level meeting took place between WHO and China about the current surge in COVID-19 cases, to seek further information on the situation, and to offer WHO’s expertise and further support,” said a WHO spokesperson. “High-level officials from China’s National Health Commission and the National Disease Control and Prevention Administration briefed WHO on China’s evolving strategy and actions in the areas of epidemiology, monitoring of variants, vaccination, clinical care, communication and R&D.”

The WHO repeated its request for regular sharing of specific and real-time data on the epidemiological situation,  including more genetic sequencing data, data on disease impact including hospitalisations, intensive care unit (ICU) admissions and deaths, and data on vaccinations delivered and vaccination status, especially in vulnerable people and those over 60 years old.

The spokesperson added: “WHO called on China to strengthen viral sequencing, clinical management and impact assessment, and expressed willingness to provide support on these areas, as well as on risk communications on vaccination to counter hesitancy. Chinese scientists are invited to engage more closely in WHO-led COVID-19 expert networks including the COVID-19 clinical management network.”

The US, UK, Japan, Indian Canada, Australia and a number of European Union countries have put in place new rules which require negative CIOVID tests for passengers travelling from China.

The moves have been criticised by the Chinese government.

“We believe that the entry restrictions adopted by some countries targeting China lack scientific basis, and some excessive practices are even more unacceptable,” foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said at a briefing. “We are firmly opposed to attempts to manipulate the Covid measures for political purposes and will take countermeasures based on the principle of reciprocity.”

IATA director general Willie Walsh joined in the criticism of the new rules adding there was no scientific data which pointed to putting travel restrictions in place had any tangible impact on halting the spread of the virus.

“Several countries are introducing COVID-19 testing and other measures for travellers from China, even though the virus is already circulating widely within their borders,” he added. “It is extremely disappointing to see this knee-jerk reinstatement of measures that have proven ineffective over the last three years.

“Research undertaken around the arrival of the Omicron variant concluded that putting barriers in the way of travel made no difference to the peak spread of infections. At most, restrictions delayed that peak by a few days. If a new variant emerges in any part of the world, the same situation would be expected.

“That’s why governments should listen to the advice of experts, including the WHO, that advise against travel restrictions. We have the tools to manage COVID-19 without resorting to ineffective measures that cut off international connectivity, damage economies and destroy jobs. Governments must base their decisions on ‘science facts’ rather than ‘science politics’.”

“Several countries are introducing COVID-19 testing and other measures for travellers from China, even though the virus is already circulating widely within their borders, it is extremely disappointing to see this knee-jerk reinstatement of measures that have proven ineffective over the last three years.”

Willie Walsh, IATA

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