Fraser Nelson Fraser Nelson

Why should we test all travellers from China?

A coffin is unloaded from a hearse at a funeral home in Beijing. (Photo by Getty Images)

What’s the point in asking people flying in from China to present a negative Covid test? Rishi Sunak has stepped in to order this, but he hasn’t quite explained why this is necessary or how it would help. Covid is still widespread worldwide but British resistance (through exposure and vaccination) is such that the virus is not seen as a threat to the NHS (collapsing for other reasons) or public health.

Data in Singapore from travellers in China confirms Beijing’s evidence that the variants it’s dealing with are BA.5.2 and BF.7 which have been in the UK for months. They can cause mayhem in an unexposed, badly-vaccinated country like China – but not to us. There’s no reason, yet, to suspect the Chinese are hiding a dodgy variant and if they were, the rest of Asia would find out quickly. So why, even in theory, would it be a problem if people flew in from China or anywhere else with a virus that is now ubiquitous?

Demanding a negative test to those coming in from China is pretty low on a travel disruption scale that, once, went up to two weeks confinement in a hotel. But this matters because it’s a sign of how a Sunak government would work, and how evidence-based he will be. How different he’d be from Boris Johnson when faced with a panic.

As Chancellor, he was an advocate of evidence-based policy and a big critic of measures that were not backed up by science. But as Prime Minister he’s doing what Johnson did: moving because others are. Lining up behind the US (which still denies entry to the unvaccinated). And not providing any evidence to back up his claim that travel measures are necessary. This is a bit of a disappointment to those (like Mark Harper, the Transport Secretary) who had hoped Britain would follow Germany, Austria and other countries who say there’s no evidence to suggest that any extra measures need to be imposed upon the Chinese.

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