Dealing with the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in China

CC – 01/2023

The abandonment of the zero COVID policy and the increasing number of Corona cases amongst the Chinese population are again leading to a need for coordination within the EU. Member states want to be more proactive so that they do not repeat the same mistakes that they made when the pandemic started.

Dealing with travellers from China

Member states agreed on a "coordinated precautionary approach" on 4 January due to their concerns that case numbers are now increasing and mutations are occurring once again in the EU following the relaxations in China. The crisis response meeting convened by the Swedish Presidency of the Council strongly recommended that all passengers entering the EU from China are required to have an up-to-date, negative COVID-19 test.

Medical or FFP2 masks should also be worn on all flights to and from China. Random checks should also be made upon arrival and any positive results should be sequenced. None of these measures are obligatory. Member states are only "strongly encouraged" to implement them.

An attempt at coordination

Several member states, such as France, Italy and Spain, had already introduced unilateral travel measures before the EU’s coordinated approach was agreed upon. Austria, Belgium, Germany and other member states have implemented the EU measures. However, there are still member states, e.g. Poland, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria, that do not want to follow the EU's approach. The reasons vary. Whereas the reason in the Czech Republic is the lack of direct flights to China, the Polish health minister claims that the measures are not justified. Australia, India, Japan, the UK and the USA have also announced tougher measures. Morocco has even banned Chinese arrivals completely.

Non-transparent situation in China

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), which held a special meeting of the Committee for the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety on 16 January, issued a progress report. The lack of transparency is particularly challenging. There is little data available about COVID-19 cases, hospital admissions, deaths as well as ICU capacity and utilisation in China. The ECDC assumes – subject to the difficult data situation – that the increase in cases in China will have no significant impact on the epidemiological situation in the EU due to the higher immunity of the EU population. Currently, there is no data available that would indicate the occurrence of mutation variants of concern in China. Member states agreed to reassess the situation and review the measures at the end of January.