COVID testing for passengers in China has been introduced against the advice of Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly

On January 1, when Announcing the restrictions, Butler said he had received “written and verbal instructions” from Kelly and acknowledged that there was “broad consensus” across jurisdictions that China’s outbreak “did not pose an immediate threat to the.” public health of Australians”.

Butler announced the restrictions anyway, saying testing will be required within 48 hours of departing from China, Hong Kong or Macau in response to an explosion of COVID-19 infections in China and the potential for new variants.

The decision to screen passengers was taken out of “excess of caution,” the health minister said, citing concerns from the World Health Organization over a lack of detailed information about the situation in China.

“This lack of comprehensive information has prompted a number of countries to take various measures in recent days, not to restrict travel from China, it is important to say, but to gather better information on what is happening epidemiologically in that country ‘ Butler said.


Australian policy follows recent moves by the United States, Japan, India, South Korea, France and Italy to impose testing mandates on Chinese visitors.

Agriculture Secretary Murray Watt said the government will not introduce mandatory isolation for travelers from China who have tested positive upon arrival. “When they test [positive before their flight] then of course we ask them not to get on the plane and … the airlines to play a role in preventing that,” he told Brisbane Radio 4BC.

One of China’s top officials in Australia expressed “deep regret” at the policy, which he said has unfairly penalized Chinese travelers while the two nations seek to rebuild diplomatic and trade ties.

Zhou Limin, China’s Consul-General in Sydney, noted with dismay that the test announcement came just weeks after Foreign Minister Penny Wong traveled to Beijing to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Australia-China diplomatic relations.

“We deeply regret that the Australian government has announced restrictions on arrivals from China,” Zhou said.

“China believes that the prevention and control measures taken by a country should be scientific and proportionate, should not target a specific other country, and should not affect normal personnel exchanges and cooperation.”

Leading public health experts said Australia should focus on increasing surveillance of increasing subvariants circulating through increasing sewage and PCR-based testing, rather than singled out China.

James McCaw, a federal government pandemic adviser, said he believes there is “no public health reason” for Australia to impose special requirements on travelers arriving from China.

“The virus continues to circulate around the world,” said the University of Melbourne epidemiologist. “We must look carefully for variants, but screening everyone coming from China will not significantly change the state of transmission in Australia.”

University of Melbourne infectious disease expert Fiona Russell said: “There will be no public health implications for this… This is not a science-based decision; I suspect it’s a political decision.”

She continued, “We shouldn’t turn back the clock to this kind of reactionary, knee-jerk political response.”

James Goodwin of the Australian Airports Association said: “Clarification on transit passengers is urgently needed as Hong Kong has been included in the announcement.

“Many people could pass through Hong Kong en route to Australia and we believe those who require testing should be based on country of origin as long as the passenger does not exit the airport.”


Paul Griffin, an infectious disease physician and associate professor at the University of Queensland, accused the federal government of “overreacting to a single country”.

The vaccine expert said the next new variant of concern could mutate anywhere in the world.

“A far better strategy would be to simply increase our surveillance in our country,” he said. “Bring sewage testing back to all states, make sure we’re still doing a good chunk of PCR testing and sequencing so we know what’s importing and what’s circulating.”

Griffin asked why China is being targeted when about 40 percent of COVID-19 cases in the United States are caused by the highly contagious Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5.

“In my view, that’s the most worrying and notable sub-variant right now,” he said.

Kirby Institute virologist Associate Professor Stuart Turville said attempts to prevent new subvariants from entering Australia had been in vain.

“Whatever sub-varieties are dominant globally, they will inevitably show up in our mix in Australia,” Turville said. “If you think the genomics are coming out of Shanghai, any dominant subvariants that are coming through in China are ones that we’ve seen before anyway.”

The head of the Department of Epidemiological Modeling at Monash University, James Tragedy, said China’s most dominant subvariant of omicron, BF.7, has already been detected on a large scale in Australia.

“From our point of view, it is currently not one of the most worrying variants,” said Traue.

Opposition shadow health secretary Anne Ruston has been reached for comment.

“The justification of the variant does not seem valid to me. Realistically, we will likely have restrictions on travelers from China for a few weeks, which I don’t think will impact new variants.”

Break through the noise of federal politics with news, perspective and expert analysis from Jacqueline Maley. Subscribers can sign up for our weekly Inside Politics newsletter here. COVID testing for passengers in China has been introduced against the advice of Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly

Callan Tansill

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