Airports and airlines slam ‘knee-jerk’ EU push for pre-flight COVID testing

A passenger arriving from China is tested for COVID-19 at the Roissy Charles de Gaulle airport.
A passenger arriving from China is tested for COVID-19 at the Roissy Charles de Gaulle airport. Copyright AP Photo/Aurelien Morissard, File
By Rosie Frost
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The coalition of aviation groups says the recommendations are ‘at odds’ with an assessment by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.


Airlines and airports have criticised EU recommendations for passengers travelling from China to present a negative COVID-19 test.

In a joint statement, the coalition made up of Airports Council International (ACI) Europe, IATA and Airlines for Europe called the decision “a knee-jerk reaction”.

China plans to ease COVID restrictions from Sunday and the EU has agreed to “strongly encourage” a requirement for passengers travelling from the country to present a negative COVID-19 test before boarding.

Officials have also recommended that passengers on flights to and from the country wear medical masks or respirators.

A number of countries in the bloc, including Sweden and Germany, have now implemented the testing recommendation with others expected to do the same soon.

The coalition of groups says that the EU’s recommendations are “at odds” with an assessment published by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) on 3 January.

Their statement says this assessment “confirms that the current surge of COVID-19 cases in China is not expected to impact the epidemiological situation in the EU/EEA”.

AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino
Medical personnel wait for passengers coming with an Air China flight from Guangzhou, China, in a COVID-19 testing area set at Rome's Leonardo da Vinci international airport.AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino

“As such, systematically testing incoming travellers from China cannot be considered a scientifically driven and risk-based measure.”

EU citizens have relatively high vaccination levels and so the chance of imported infections is low compared to daily cases, the ECDC says. It adds that the COVID-19 variants circulating in China are already present in the bloc.

What do airports and airlines think needs to be done to stop the spread of COVID-19?

ACI Europe, IATA and Airlines for Europe support moving away from testing passengers as a way of tracking COVID-19.

The groups welcome additional EU recommendations to test wastewater from airports and aircraft, saying it should be seen as an alternative to testing passengers.

But, they add, if testing is introduced it “needs to be carried out by the competent health authorities, as airport and airline staff are not qualified to do so.”

The recommendations now being introduced by EU states must be implemented in a “fully uniform manner”, the coalition of airport and airline groups stress.

“We urge EU member states and China to work together and to reconsider at the earliest opportunity their requirements for systematic pre-departure testing of travellers based on a scientifically driven risk assessment,” they conclude.

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