A surge in Covid-19 cases in China is not expected to increase the risk to EU citizens, the bloc’s disease control agency said on Tuesday, raising questions over some countries’ decision to put restrictions on Chinese visitors.
France, Spain and Italy have said they will introduce controls on visitors from China such as demanding evidence of a recent negative Covid-19 test or proof of vaccination. China is opening up from a lengthy lockdown, sparking a rise in infections in the world’s second-biggest economy.
But the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, which monitors threats in the EU and European Economic Area, said the variants circulating in China are already prevalent in the EU.
“As such [they] are not challenging for the immune response of EU/EEA citizens,” the centre said. “In addition, EU/EEA citizens have relatively high immunisation and vaccination levels.”
Given the higher level of immunity in the population, as well as the previous pattern of emergence of variants and subvariants of the disease in Europe, a surge in cases in China was “not expected to impact the Covid-19 epidemiological situation” in the EU and EEA, the ECDC added.
The European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, said on Tuesday that it followed a “science-based approach”.
“We very much depend on the ECDC,” a spokesman said. “It is important to point out they do not have evidence of new variants and new risks at this stage.”
Commission representatives and health ministry officials from EU member states this afternoon were due to discuss “common measures” on tackling the China issue at a meeting on Tuesday. They could include increases in gene sequencing to detect new strains and sampling of sewage, particularly from airports, to gauge the prevalence of the disease.
However, several countries are expected to push for EU-wide testing of travellers from China.
Lars Danielsson, EU ambassador of Sweden, which took over the EU’s rotating presidency from the Czech Republic at the start of the year, said he expected governments to back the move.
“I’m sure that we can agree on some sort of recommendations on restrictions for travellers from China. I don’t see that as very dramatic,” Danielsson told the Financial Times.
“Some member states have used the [opportunity] to already introduce them and we can continue that. I think there will be a call for joint recommendations. I think we can arrive at that.”
Wednesday’s meeting of a wider group, including health agencies and staff from the EU council secretariat, known as the Integrated Political Crisis Response mechanism, would make any recommendations for ambassadors to endorse later in the week.
The ECDC repeated its assessment that the probability of Europeans being infected with Covid in the coming weeks was “very high”. Its weekly data report found that in the week ending December 18, 2022 the number of people aged over 65 across the EU/EEA with Covid increased by 7 per cent compared with the previous week.
In addition, 11 of the 21 countries with data on hospital admissions and intensive care bed occupancy reported an increasing trend in at least one of those indicators. The death rate decreased by 11 per cent compared with the previous week; 2,009 fatalities linked to Covid-19 were reported across the EU and EEA.