Simon Clarke

Is the government’s Chinese travel policy really necessary?

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Anyone travelling from China to the UK will now be asked to present evidence of a negative Covid-19 test before they are allowed to enter the country. But what will this achieve and is this measure even necessary? 

It’s often argued that these sorts of restrictions don’t work, and this is a reason the UK should not have impeded travel from China. But this depends entirely on where the bar for success is set. If the measures are intended to completely stop all infected individuals then they clearly won’t work. This kind of testing isn’t accurate enough to identify everyone who is infected and someone will always find a way around the rules. But if all that’s required is to slow down or reduce those numbers – what was once called ‘flattening the curve’ or ‘squashing the sombrero’ – then it’s conceivable that they may have some effect, if enforced properly.  

Given the current winter pressures, it’s argued by some Tory MPs that the NHS doesn’t need any extra patients and so these measures will help the health service. But in a largely vaccinated population like the UK, will this really be the case? The worst Covid effects most people will have are feeling unwell for a few days, not something which is unusual during the winter months. The risk of hospitalisation from Covid has reduced enormously and if someone has turned down the vaccine, that’s their lookout.  

But, unfortunately, a country like China may provide the virus with just the right conditions for a new variant to arise which is less sensitive to existing immunity.  

Some doctors and scientists are worried that China is fertile ground for nature to create new versions of the virus which can evade our protective immunity.

It’s only about a month since we saw widespread scenes of civil unrest in Chinese cities as ordinary people reacted violently to being shut in their homes yet again.

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