To test or not to test people arriving from China for COVID? That’s the question UK government officials are asking as the East Asian country opens up to international travel.
It is feared that the end of nearly three years of strict covid measures in this country of 1.4 billion people could lead to a massive spread of the disease around the world.
So what is the best approach? Here is a guide to the current situation.
What is the UK’s response?
For now, the UK government is taking a wait-and-see approach. It is to maintain the situation “in the study” after previously stating that there were no plans to introduce COVID-19[feminine] tests for arrivals from China.
Other countries have gone further by requiring a negative COVID test result no more than two days before departure from mainland China, Hong Kong or Macau (as the US will do) or by testing people at their arrival (which happens in countries like Italy).
So what did Italy discover while testing passengers from China?
The main airport in the Italian city of Milan began testing passengers arriving from Beijing and Shanghai on December 26 and found nearly half of them were infected.
Do we risk missing out on new variants by not testing people in COVID hotspots?
The UK, which was led by Prime Minister Boris Johnson when the pandemic took hold in 2020, has been criticized for its handling of the public health crisis, having been slow to spot infections arriving and late with a lockdown compared to other major countries.
The big concern for scientists and officials is the arrival of new variants in the UK that could be more virulent and more contagious than those already circulating.
Professor Rowland Kao, an expert in epidemiology and data science at the University of Edinburgh, told Sky News: “At the moment there is no clear indication that any new variants are emerging from China.
“But the problem we have is that we have so little data from China that we really don’t know what’s going on.”
He added: “Every time we get a different variant entering the country from any source or even occurring in the country, as has happened in the past, we get an increase in the number of cases.
“These increases in cases ultimately lead to an increase in the number of people in hospital. And we need to be aware of these things, do everything we can to prepare for them. Although honestly, there are not that many in the current circumstances. we can do.”
Health Minister Will Quince added: “The key thing to watch out for is a new variant, and there is no evidence of a new variant that is not already widespread in the UK – but we let’s keep the situation under review.”
How can we keep track of new variants coming into the UK?
Professor Kao believes international arrivals should undergo lateral flow testing.
He said: “If you test positive, do a PCR test so we can get the information we need to understand what’s going on. It won’t stop the infection from spreading.
“We will get far too few this way, but it will give us the data to understand what is going on. .”
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Former health minister Lord Bethell has urged the government to follow Italy in introducing COVID testing for visitors from China.
The peer curator, who was in office during the pandemic, said the strategy would allow for confidence in the results and for genomic testing to understand if new variants are emerging.
“I think there are two different reasons for introducing testing – one is the American approach of doing pre-testing to slow the spread. It’s a difficult thing to do because containing a virus like COVID is like trying to stop the sea.
“But what the Italians are doing is post-flight surveillance of arrivals in Italy to understand if there are emerging variants and … the impact of the virus on the Italian health system,” he said. on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“It’s a sensible thing to do and something the UK government should seriously consider.”
How bad is the spread of COVID in China right now?
UK health data firm Airfinity has estimated that around 9,000 people are likely dying from COVID-19 every day in China – nearly double last week’s figure, with daily infections expected to peak at 3.7 million of cases in mid-January.
China officially reported one new COVID death on Wednesday, up from three on Tuesday, but foreign governments and many epidemiologists believe the numbers are much higher and more than a million people could die next year.
China said it only counts COVID patient deaths caused by pneumonia and respiratory failure as COVID-related.
Its official death toll of 5,246 since the start of the pandemic compares to more than one million deaths in the United States. Chinese-ruled Hong Kong has reported more than 11,000 deaths.
China dismissed criticism of its statistics as baseless and politically motivated attempts to smear its policies. He also downplayed the risk of new variants, saying he expects the mutations to be more virulent but less severe.
China’s borders have been virtually closed to foreigners since the start of 2020, shortly after the outbreak of the coronavirus in its central city of Wuhan, but it announced it would scrap quarantine for inbound travelers from 8 January.
The reopening raises the prospect of Chinese tourists returning to high streets around the world, once a market worth $255bn (£211bn) a year globally.
What is the current COVID situation in the UK?
COVID infections rose in England and Scotland earlier this month, while the trend in Wales and Northern Ireland was uncertain.
A total of 1.4 million people in private households in the UK were likely to test positive for coronavirus in the week to December 9.
That figure was up from 1.1 million at the end of November, but lower than the two million weekly infections at the start of October.
Estimates released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) give a glimpse of what was happening in the UK in early December, when coronavirus was starting to become more widespread among the population.
Professor Kao said, “We are definitely better off than a year ago, two years ago.”
He said the number of people vaccinated is now lower than in previous waves, but is still “relatively high”.
“The number of people in hospitals is increasing, people with COVID. You add to the number of hospitals with influenza, other infections like RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), and that translates into a really very high number of people, a real stress on the capacity of the NHS.”
Meanwhile, the UK Health Security Agency will stop publishing COVID modeling data next month after almost three years.
The increasingly sporadic updates of the R number of the virus will cease from January 6, 2023, deemed “no longer necessary” thanks to vaccines and treatments.