Europe 'should force American passengers to test negative for Covid'

WHO implies European countries should force American passengers to test negative for Covid as US becomes hotspot for XBB.1.5 variant

  • Catherine Smallwood, senior emergency officer, made the recommendation
  • But she said Europe should not impose testing requirements ‘at this stage’
  • She also urged passengers to wear face masks while on long-haul flights 

American travelers should show a negative Covid test in order to enter European countries, the World Health Organization implied today as the US became the world’s hotspot for XBB.1.5.

Catherine Smallwood, the agency’s senior emergency officer for Europe, implied the rule-change at a press conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.

But she stopped short of recommending testing mandates ‘at this stage’, instead urging people on long-haul flights to wear face masks to curb the spread of Covid.

Concerns have been raised over the Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5, which has taken root in America and is now behind 27 percent of cases. For comparison, in Europe it is responsible for less than 2.5 percent of infections.

But scientists are quick to point out that America’s wave is not growing as fast as feared and that there is no sign the strain is more likely to cause severe disease at present.

American travelers should have to show a negative Covid test before being allowed into European countries, the WHO implied today. Pictured: JFK airport in New York

Catherine Smallwood, a senior emergency officer for Europe at the agency, implied that testing requirements should return (pictured)

Asked today about travel restrictions, Ms Smallwood said: ‘In terms of travel measures, yes, our opinion is that travel measures should be implemented in a non-discriminatory manner.

‘That is not to say that we recommend testing of patients, of passengers, coming from the US at this stage.

‘Countries need to look at the evidence base for testing for pre-departure testing.’

She added: ‘When it comes to XBB.1.5, which is a recombinant virus, that has been spreading very very rapidly in the northern US and eastern parts of the USA.’

Asked about wearing masks on flights, she said: ‘The WHO’s recommendation is that passengers should wear a mask in high risk settings such as long haul flights.

‘This should be a recommendation issued to passengers arriving from anywhere where there is widespread transmission.’ 

About 27 percent of Covid cases in the US are caused by XBB.1.5, statistics suggest. For comparison, in Europe it is behind about 2.5 percent of cases

In Northern and eastern states like New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts, it is behind as many as three in four infections

Why there’s NO reason to worry about Covid death uptick in NY 


Covid deaths are running at half the level compared to December 2021, and a third of the level of winter 2020.

Covid cases are trending upwards in the US, having risen 16 percent over the last week nationally to about 67,000 new infections every day.

But in the European Union — which has twice as many people — cases are falling, down by about a third last week to some 65,000 infections a day.

The uptick in the US is largely being driven by the more transmissible Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5, which is now behind 27.6 percent of cases nationally.

In northern and eastern states like New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut, it is behind as many as three in four cases.

But in Europe the variant is little-known, being behind less than 2.5 percent of cases according to estimates from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), although this is rising.

Many scientists say, however, that concerns over the variant are overblown pointing out that it is not spreading as quickly as first feared and that there is no evidence that it is more likely to cause severe disease or death.

The US and more than a dozen other countries have already placed restrictions on travelers from China, requiring them to show a negative Covid test before flying.

This is in response to the ‘exit wave’ of cases in China, which has left hospitals overwhelmed and triggered estimates the country could be facing up to 250million Covid infections in December.

America dropped its negative Covid test requirement for all in-bound travelers on June 12 last year, after a recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Many other European countries had dropped the restriction earlier, with the UK ending the requirement in February and France dropping the restriction the same month.

There are no signs at present that the countries may re-impose Covid restrictions.

China ends quarantine for inbound travelers as the country climbs down from hardline zero-Covid

On Sunday, January 8, the first people to arrive expressed relief at not having to undergo the grueling quarantines

China lifted quarantine requirements for inbound travelers, ending almost three years of self-imposed isolation even as the country battles a surge in Covid cases.

On Sunday, January 8, the first people to arrive expressed relief at not having to undergo the grueling quarantines that were a fixture of life in zero-Covid China.

In Hong Kong, where the border with mainland China was re-opened after years of closure, more than 400,000 people were set to travel north in the coming eight weeks.

Beijing last month began a dramatic dismantling of a hardline zero-Covid strategy that had enforced mandatory quarantines and punishing lockdowns.

The policy had a huge impact on the world’s second-biggest economy and generated resentment throughout society that led to nationwide protests just before it was eased.

At Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport, a woman surnamed Pang told AFP Sunday she was thrilled with the ease of travel.

‘I think it’s really good that the policy has changed now, it’s really humane,’ she told AFP.

‘It’s a necessary step I think. Covid has become normalized now and after this hurdle everything will be smooth,’ she said.

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