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EU countries near deal on bloc-wide response to China’s COVID escalation

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EU countries are inching toward coordinated travel measures in response to China’s COVID surge, including pre-departure testing, masks on flights and testing wastewater for possible new variants.

The push for a joint response comes only after several EU countries had already introduced their own measures to curb COVID rates from China and surveil for new variants, despite vows to improve collaboration during the first wave of the pandemic.

At a health security meeting Tuesday of national ministers and representatives from the European Commission, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and the World Health Organization, officials moved closer to a consensus on pre-departure testing for travelers from China, stepping up wastewater monitoring from flights, and increased domestic surveillance of the virus, tweeted EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides.

The members “converged” on these measures, she said, adding: “Discussion continues tomorrow in [the integrated political crisis response (IPCR) mechanism meeting].”

A Commission spokesperson told POLITICO that the Commission presented a draft opinion on proposed measures to EU capitals, which will now be “revised and adopted” based on their input.

“The overwhelming majority of countries are in favor of pre-departure testing,” the spokesperson said, adding that such tests “would need to be targeted at the most appropriate flights and airports and carried out in a coordinated way to ensure their effectiveness.”

The draft opinion also includes wearing masks on flights from China, personal hygiene for travelers and increased EU vigilance on testing and vaccination. It includes genomic surveillance at airports to detect new variants, such as testing toilet water, as well as increased monitoring and sequencing. The EU’s crisis response body will take all these measures into consideration when it meets Wednesday.

Many countries in Europe introduced wastewater sampling during the pandemic to identify outbreaks of COVID, but also to genetically sequence samples to monitor for new variants.

Belgium was the first country this week to announce it was testing wastewater samples from two flights a week from China and sequencing for variants.

Countries including the U.K. have said there is a lack of comprehensive health information shared by China, making it difficult to know whether new variants are emerging in the country.

Meanwhile, countries including Italy, France and Spain introduced their own testing measures for travelers from China last week, as well as the U.K.

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