London: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is said to be considering imposing some travel restrictions on China amid soaring COVID-19 infections in the country and a clampdown by other countries such as India and the US, according to UK media reports on Friday.
Officially ministers have said that adopting tighter rules for people arriving from China is “under review” after a surge in cases following Beijing’s decision to end its zero-COVID policy.
UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the Department for Transport (DfT) would take medical advice and talk to the Department of Health before making a decision.
”The government is looking at that, it’s under review, we noticed obviously what the US has done and India and I think Italy has looked at it,” said Wallace.
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”We keep under review all the time, obviously, health threats to the UK, wherever they may be,” he said.
According to ‘The Daily Telegraph’, a variety of options are being worked up on what the restrictions would look like and the final sign-off for any such move is expected to be taken by Sunak in the coming days.
UK Health Secretary Steve Barclay met Sir Chris Whitty, England’s Chief Medical Officer, and Jenny Harries, the chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), this week to discuss the situation. They decided not to announce any new restrictions – a position also taken by the European Union (EU) – with more than a million people in Britain already infected and no signs yet of a new variant that could get around UK vaccine protections.
A number of countries, including India, have introduced mandatory RT-PCR testing for arrivals for certain countries in the region in response to China’s coronavirus surge. UK Health Minister Will Quince told the BBC he knew that many people would be concerned ”about the news coming out of China” and the government was taking the situation ”incredibly seriously”. However, there was ”no evidence at this point of a new variant from China”, which he said would be the ”key threat”.
Lord James Bethell, who was health minister during the pandemic, said there was a good reason to look at testing people when they land, a policy Italy has adopted.
”What the Italians are doing is post-flight surveillance of arrivals in Italy, in order to understand whether there are any emerging variants and to understand the impact of the virus on the Italian health system,” he told the BBC.
”That is a sensible thing to do and something the British government should be seriously looking at,” he said.
China is reporting about 5,000 cases a day, but analysts say such numbers are vastly undercounted – and the daily caseload may be closer to one million.
Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, said he did not think the current situation in China was likely to generate many more COVID cases in the UK or generally across the globe. While China was in a ”dark” and ”difficult” place, the current evidence suggested the particular variant causing most infections in the country was ”very common elsewhere in the world,” he said.