The government has been accused of ‘muddled thinking’ in easing its restrictions on passengers arriving from China next week. The new regulations will mean that compulsory tests will no longer be necessary on arrival but testing at Heathrow will instead be voluntary and anyone that tests positive will neither have to quarantine nor self-isolate.
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It will, however, be necessary to show a negative Covid-19 test before boarding the flight in mainland China from Thursday 5 January. This will apply to direct flights to Manchester or Heathrow, which are the only two points of arrival.
The news has been met with consternation amidst fears of a new and dangerous variant of the virus being inadvertently brought over to the UK. Since China dropped its ‘zero covid’ policy, there has been a surge in cases amongst the population there with many people lacking immunity.
Beijing also has further plans to ease international travelrestrictions on 8 January, which will allow more citizens to leave.
Mark Harper, transport secretary, commented, as per The Independent:
China’s lack of reliable Covid data means these sensible, proportionate and temporary measures are needed ahead of their borders reopening.
The same concern is also shared by other countries across the globe including Italy, the US and Japan which have introduced testing requirements.
The Liberal Democrats’ health spokesperson Daisy Cooper commented on the move, as per The Independent:
Government incompetence on dealing with the latest Covid threat is the last thing our overstretched NHS needs right now. This muddled thinking could haunt ministers if they get it wrong.
Responding to the announcement, the United Kingdom Health Security Agency’s (UKHSA) chief medical advisor, Professor Susan Hopkins, said:
In order to improve our intelligence, we are enhancing our surveillance, in addition to our current routine testing protocol.
Ministers have also said a 'sample of arrivals' will be tested for PCR tests when the UKHSA begins surveillance of arriving flights. It is thought that passengers may be selected randomly for mandatory arrival tests, similar to how it is done in other countries like India and Canada.
The official guidance for passengers who test positive after arrival at Heathrow from China is to follow the standard UK guidelines for people with Covid. This means simply avoiding crowded places such as public transport, large social gatherings, or anywhere that is enclosed or poorly ventilated.