The head of the world’s biggest airline trade group has criticised the nations imposing travel restrictions on visitors from China as the European Union moved to coordinate the response to a mounting COVID-19 crisis.
Willie Walsh, director of the International Air Transport Association, said on Wednesday that rules such as mandatory testing on arrivals were ill-advised as they had failed to curb the spread of the virus throughout the pandemic.
“It is extremely disappointing to see this knee-jerk reinstatement of measures that have proven ineffective over the last three years,” Walsh said.
“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.”
Meanwhile, the EU’s 27 states were zeroing in on new restrictions for arrivals from China, where the easing of virus rules has given way to a wave of infections, overwhelming hospitals and funeral homes.
A European Commission spokesman said the “overwhelming majority” in the bloc backed mandatory testing for passengers from China before their departure.
Beijing and European health experts have said there is no pressing need for blanket travel measures since the COVID-19 variants from China are already prevalent in Europe.
But EU nations were also likely to agree on special testing of wastewater in planes coming from China to check if it contains dangerous variants that are uncommon in Europe.
Sweden, which holds the EU presidency, said in a statement that “travellers from China need to be prepared for decisions being taken at short notice” with an announcement expected as early as Wednesday afternoon.
EU countries including France, Spain and Italy have already imposed testing requirements on arrivals from China, pending a bloc-wide approach.
Beijing warns of ‘countermeasures’
Beyond the bloc, the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia, South Korea and Taiwan are among the growing list of countries that have also rolled out restrictions.
China has vehemently denounced the restrictions and has warned of “countermeasures” if they are expanded in the coming days.
“We sincerely hope that all parties will focus on fighting the epidemic itself, [and] avoid the politicisation of COVID,” Chinese government spokesperson Mao Ning said on Wednesday.
China reported five new COVID-19 deaths on Tuesday, bringing its official pandemic death toll throughout the crisis to 5,258.
However, there are widespread doubts about the data published by Beijing. Foreign governments and many epidemiologists have argued that the numbers are much higher, and that more than one million people may die next year.
By comparison, 178,000 people in the United Kingdom have passed away 28 days after a positive COVID test.
China has said it only counts deaths of COVID patients caused by pneumonia and respiratory failure as COVID-related.