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Australia drops COVID testing for China arrivals

written by Adam Thorn | March 9, 2023

An Air China A330 in Sydney

Australia has followed the US in removing its controversial requirement for arrivals from China to take a pre-departure COVID test.

The federal government said the rules would be abolished from 12.01am on 11 March 2023 and followed no new variants of concern being discovered.

It will apply to both mainland China as well as the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau.

China fully opened its border by axing quarantine on 8 January, and the testing changes came into effect on 5 January.

“This is a sensible, measured decision based on decreasing COVID-19 case numbers in China, regular data updates from China on case numbers, and the fact that we have strengthened our capacity to detect and respond to emerging variants of concern within Australia of international origin,” said Health Minister Mark Butler on Thursday.

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The announcement significantly came just hours after the US made the same decision and followed similar moves by Korea, Japan, France and Italy.

The move will be seen as a boon for the aviation industry, which has been relying on Chinese carriers increasing capacity into Australia to repair the slower-than-hoped-for international recovery.

Australian Aviation reported in January how the International Air Transport Association (IATA) accused countries of playing politics by requiring testing.

In a strongly worded statement, its director general, Willie Walsh, called the decisions “extremely disappointing” and said the rules would prove ineffective at keeping infections down.

“Research undertaken around the arrival of the Omicron variant concluded that putting barriers in the way of travel made no difference to the peak spread of infections,” said Walsh.

“At most, restrictions delayed that peak by a few days. If a new variant emerges in any part of the world, the same situation would be expected.

“That’s why governments should listen to the advice of experts, including the WHO, that advise against travel restrictions.

“We have the tools to manage COVID-19 without resorting to ineffective measures that cut off international connectivity, damage economies and destroy jobs.

“Governments must base their decisions on ‘science facts’ rather than ‘science politics’.”

The IATA is a trade association of the world’s airlines founded in 1945, and its head was a previous CEO of both Aer Lingus and British Airways.

Walsh’s intervention followed New Zealand refusing to implement new rules, and after it emerged Australia’s Chief Medical Officer, Paul Kelly, was strongly against the restrictions, which he said were “disproportionate to risk”.

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