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People travelling from China wait for their baggage at an airport in France. Australia’s health minister pointed out that several European states, as well as the US and Japan, also require travellers from China to provide a negative pre-departure Covid test. Photo: EPA-EFE

Australia defends ‘moderate’ Covid testing mandate for China arrivals: ‘to travel to China you need to do it as well’

  • Pre-departure testing was a reasonable condition to impose on travellers from China, Australian Health Minister Mark Butler told reporters
  • The ‘temporary’ measure was put in place due to a lack of information about the spread of Covid in China and was not a barrier to travel, he said
Australia’s health minister on Thursday defended his country’s “modest” pre-departure testing measures on travellers from China, saying they were designed to nudge Beijing into sharing more Covid data.

Health Minister Mark Butler ignored the advice of Australia’s chief medical officer to introduce the new restrictions, which he said would not hinder travel between Australia and China.

“We want these measures to be temporary, they are modest measures, and as you see with flights arriving today, they are not a barrier to travel,” he told reporters in Melbourne.

From Thursday, people arriving in Australia from mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau are required to produce a negative PCR test that was taken within 48 hours of their departure. Visitors who use a rapid antigen test to prove they don’t have Covid need to have the procedure overseen by a medical worker.

Butler said that preflight testing was a reasonable condition to impose on travellers as there was “very little information on the ground” about the spread of Covid in China. The World Health Organization has said China is “under-representing” the severity of its current outbreak.

“Pretty much every country to which we would usually compare ourselves was putting in place these measures in light of the World Health Organization advice that was being released … that these were understandable measures,” the ABC quoted him as saying.

“I do make the point that to travel to China you need to do a pre-departure test as well.”

The US, Japan and several European states also require travellers from China to provide a negative test, Butler added. The Malaysian state of Sabah also announced on Wednesday night that it would require travellers from China to produce a negative Covid test result within 48 hours of departure.

Australia, Japan ramp up testing for China arrivals. Malaysia, New Zealand don’t

Beijing has threatened countermeasures against any countries that impose testing requirements on travellers from China, with a foreign ministry spokeswoman saying they “ lack scientific basis”. The country has seen infections skyrocket in recent weeks after it abruptly dumped its zero-Covid policy of the past three years.

Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly had earlier advised that there wasn’t “sufficient public health rationale” to impose pre-departure testing, which has been criticised by racial justice groups and opposition parties for singling out passengers from China.

Cao Menghan, who was waiting for her parents at Sydney airport on Thursday, told the ABC that “it is OK to take the test as it is required”, while her mother said she “respects” every country’s rules.