Australia defends Covid tests for China arrivals

Australia’s government on Wednesday criticised Beijing’s lack of Covid-19 transparency, after overruling its chief medical officer and ramping up testing for travellers from China.

A growing list of countries — including the United States, Britain, France and Japan — have recently slapped China with more stringent travel testing requirements.

China, battling a surge in cases after relaxing its “zero Covid” policy, has denounced the measures as “unacceptable” while threatening to retaliate.

From Thursday, travellers from mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau will need to test negative no more than 48 hours before departing for Australia.

Australia’s chief medical officer Paul Kelly advised the government against the requirement, writing in a government briefing that it lacked “sufficient public health rationale”.

“There is strong consensus that implementation of any restrictions to travel from China at this time would be inconsistent with the current national approach to the management of COVID-19 and disproportionate to the risk,” he wrote.

But Treasurer Jim Chalmers on Wednesday said the government was acting “out of an abundance of caution”.

“It’s about a part of the world where we have concerns about transparency,” he told national broadcaster ABC.

Asked if the restrictions were politically motivated, Chalmers said he didn’t “see it precisely like that”.

“There certainly is a lot of concern around the global health community about the transparency and quality of data that we see out of China on Covid.”

Data compiled by the World Health Organization shows no fresh Covid figures from China for more than a week.

Australia’s previous conservative government angered China in 2020 by pushing for an international investigation into the origins of the pandemic, first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

The new centre-left government has spent the past few months trying to reset its relationship with Beijing.