Wednesday, February 8, 2023

COVID-19: EU Health Security Committee to hold emergency meeting over COVID situation in China

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The European Union’s Health Security Committee is holding an emergency meeting on Thursday in a bid to coordinate COVID-19 measures across member states as China reopens its borders.

“In light of the current COVID-19 situation in China, the Commission has convened the Health Security Committee this morning to discuss with Member States and EU Agencies possible measures for a coordinated EU approach,” a spokesperson for the European Commission told Euronews.

The EU Health Security Committee is an informal advisory group on health security at European level aimed at reinforcing the coordination and sharing of best practices and information on national preparedness activities.

The meeting comes after Italy, which was hit hard by the first wave of the pandemic in early 2020, ordered mandatory COVID antigen swabs and virus sequencing for all travellers coming from China.

Health Minister Orazio Schillaci said on Wednesday that “the measure is essential to ensure the surveillance and identification of any variants of the virus in order to protect the Italian population.”

The US also requires a negative COVID-19 test for travellers from China.

Beijing started loosening its zero-COVID policy and strict travel quarantine rules after protests swept through the country in late November following the death of at least 10 people in a building under quarantine in Urumqi in the western Xinjiang region.

The easing has led to an explosion in cases across China where trust in locally-developed vaccines is low. Western vaccines such as the mRNA jabs by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are not approved by the country’s health authorities. 

EU health ministers agreed in early December to return to a pre-pandemic approach to free movement and travel without any COVID-19 related measures. But they kept the possibility to activate an “emergency brake” in a coordinated approach if the epidemiological situation worsens.

“The BF7 omicron variant, which is prevalent in China, is already present in Europe and has not significantly grown. However, we remain vigilant and will be ready to use the emergency brake if necessary,” the Commission spokesperson said.

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