The health minister has defended his decision to impose pre-departure COVID tests on people travelling from China, despite the government’s chief health advisor recommending against it.
- Mark Butler says pre-flight COVID testing on China travellers was in line with several nations
- The health minister said China was requiring similar tests for people coming to China
- The peak medical association has criticised the government’s “hotchpotch” approach
Mark Butler said the government had implemented the recommendations of Chief Health Officer Paul Kelly, but had also decided to follow several other countries in requiring additional testing for travellers from China.
China is facing a wave of COVID infections as it abandons its zero-COVID policy and reopens international travel, but has also received criticism for a lack of detail over the scale of infections in the country.
Mr Butler said in light of the lack of transparency, the “modest” imposition that requires travellers to take a PCR test or supervised rapid antigen test within 48 hours of their flight was a reasonable requirement.
He said Border Force had not identified any issues with compliance as the first flights arrived this morning.
“We want these measures to be temporary, they are modest measures, and as you see with flights arriving today, they are not a barrier to travel,” Mr Butler said.
Mr Butler noted that in the past 24 hours the European Commission had encouraged EU countries to follow suit, and that Australia was in step with the United States, the United Kingdom and several Asia-Pacific countries in requiring pre-flight testing.
“Pretty much every country to which we would usually compare ourselves was putting in place these measures in light of the World Health Organisation advice that was being released … that these were understandable measures,” he said.
Mr Butler said the government was acting our of an abundance of caution to a fast growing COVID wave in the world’s largest country, with “very little information on the ground”.
“I do make the point that to travel to China you need to do a pre-departure test as well.”
After releasing advice by the chief medical officer that mandatory testing would be an overreaction and there was not a “sufficient public health rationale” for the move, the opposition criticised Mr Butler’s decision to go against the advice.
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said the government’s “panicked” response had left travellers coming from China confused.
The Australian Medical Association said the government must take a more nationally consistent approach, rather than its “hotchpotch” response to the pandemic so far.
China has threatened countermeasures against countries that require mandatory pre-flight COVID testing for travellers coming from the country.