JAKARTA - Italy on Thursday urged the entire European Union (EU) to follow in its footsteps, testing travelers from China for COVID-19, but others said they saw no need to do so at this time or were waiting for a joint stance across largely borderless blocks.
EU health officials have yet to agree on a single action when they hold talks on Thursday morning, saying they will resume talks later.
This is not the first time EU countries have been divided due to COVID policies. At the start of the pandemic there were many debates about what to do, and heated competition to buy safety equipment, before member states united and succeeded in placing - and sharing - vaccine orders together.
Italy "hopes" that the EU will impose mandatory COVID tests for all passengers flying from China as did Roma, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni told a news conference.
The scale of the outbreak in China and doubts over official data have prompted countries including the United States and Japan to impose new travel rules on Chinese visitors as Beijing lifts its restrictions.
So far, only Italy, a member of the European Union, has asked for COVID-19 antigen swabs for all travelers arriving from China. It is at risk of ineffective if someone else in the block, where people travel freely from one country to another, would not do the same, Meloni said.
The main airport in the Italian city of Milan began testing passengers arriving from Beijing and Shanghai on December 26, finding that nearly half of them were infected.
But earlier on Thursday, Brigitte Autran, head of France's COVARS health risk assessment committee, said: "From a scientific point of view, there is no reason at this stage to return control at the border."
Autran, who advises the government on epidemiological risks, told Radio Classique the situation is currently under control and there are no signs of a worrying new variant of COVID in China.
Separately, Germany and Portugal also said they saw no need for new travel restrictions, while Austria had stressed the economic benefits of returning Chinese tourists to Europe.
Meanwhile Norway, which is not a member of the EU but is part of the bloc's border-free deal, took a similar approach.
"We probably have several hundred thousand people affected by COVID in Norway every week now," Professor Preben Aavitsland of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health wrote on Twitter.
"Beberapa hundred kasus tambahan di antara para pempor dari China akan menjadi mengenai air di laut," lanjutnya.
Elsewhere in Europe, the UK also said it had no plans to return COVID tests to those coming to the country.
The EU Health Committee, which consists of officials from health ministries across the bloc and chaired by the Commission, ended its meeting with calls for a united stance.
"We need to act together & will continue our discussions," the European Commission said in a tweet, without specifying when the talks would resume.
China's borders have been closed to foreigners since early 2020, as soon as the coronavirus first emerged in downtown Wuhan. Along with the easing of its zero-COVID policy, China announced it would remove quarantine for travelers entering from January 8.
The reopening increases the prospect of Chinese tourists returning to shopping streets around the world, once a market worth USD 255 billion per year globally.
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