The Australian federal government is set to face more questions over its decision to test arrivals from China after New Zealand said on Wednesday it wouldn’t implement similar restrictions.
The country’s Covid-19 Response Minister, Ayesha Verrall, argued there was “minimum public health risk” and instead opted to voluntarily ask some visitors to take tests.
“Officials have done a public health risk assessment, including working through scenarios of potential case numbers among travellers from China. This confirmed these visitors wouldn’t contribute significantly to our Covid case numbers meaning entry restrictions aren’t required or justified,” she said.
“We know that BF7 is the prevalent variant in China and that it hasn’t caused significant outbreaks in other countries that, like New Zealand, have already been exposed to the BA5 variant.
“So public health measures are not required to protect New Zealanders.”
It comes after the Australian federal government performed a surprise U-turn on Monday and said those arriving from China would be required to show proof they didn’t currently have the virus.
However, later that day, it emerged that Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly was strongly against the restrictions, which he said were “disproportionate to risk”.
China is set to fully open its border by axing quarantine on 8 January, and the new rules will come into effect on 5 January.
On Wednesday, the federal opposition continued to question the handling of the new restrictions, with Nationals leader David Littleproud demanding Health Minister Mark Butler “come out of hiding”.
Opposition leader Peter Dutton similarly accused the federal government of “lacking a plan” and “making it up as they go along”.
Despite the criticism, Treasurer Jim Chalmers earlier defended the change of stance and hinted it was influenced by similar moves made by countries including the UK, US and Italy.
“It is not an especially onerous requirement that people have a negative test when they come here from that part of the world,” Dr Chalmers told Sky News.
“The Chief Medical Officers are people we work with closely. We respect their advice. Of course, one of the points that they’ve been making is we need to do better when it comes to surveillance of people coming to the country. There’s an element of uncertainty about the data coming out of China.
“So for all of those reasons, we’ve taken this decision out of an abundance of caution consistent with what’s happening around the world in other countries with which we compare ourselves.”
The shake-up was already controversial, with many epidemiologists arguing testing would make little difference to a virus now epidemic in Australia.
Passengers transiting won’t be covered by the new rules, including those laying over in Hong Kong, Macau and even mainland China. The tests will though be required to be monitored by a medical professional if using a RAT, rather than PCR, test.