Health minister Manuel Pizarro
Health minister Manuel Pizarro does not want any alarmism. RODRIGO ANTUNES/LUSA

Government prepares Covid-19 controls for incoming passengers from China

But basic orientation is “wait and see”

Portugal’s government has admitted it is preparing measures to control Covid-19 for passengers flying in from China – “to be implemented if necessary”.

Health minister Manuel Pizarro is at pains not to appear “alarmist” in the face of the current Covid wave said to be sweeping through populations in China.

He told Lusa today: “The ministries of health, interior and foreign affairs are preparing to adopt, at airports, control measures for passengers coming from China, which will be implemented if and when they prove necessary.

This is a slightly different situation to orientation given to the media yesterday – but even yesterday authorities said they would be “accompanying the situation”.

Now, Mr Pizarro calls the picture “a cause for concern”, involving “close dialogue with other European countries, particularly in the framework of the European Union and with international health bodies”.

There is only one direct weekly flight that lands in Portugal from China, but the possibility of measures to control passengers on flights with stopovers in other countries is also being assessed.

“It makes no sense to force people to undergo repeated checks. If it becomes necessary to carry out this control, it makes sense to ensure that everyone was checked at least in one place, in this case it will have to be done in Portugal if it is not done elsewhere,” he said.

According to the minister, the health ministry is following this situation “with all prudence and with all care, but there is no reason for alarmism”.

“We have today a very different situation from what we had before”, he said. “We have vaccinated people, especially the vulnerable population, to a very high vaccination rate, and we have a knowledge about Covid-19 that is very different from the knowledge of the past”.

Thus the situation in Portugal “justifies attention, monitoring, information and preparation, but nothing more than that (…) any alarmism would be completely unjustified”.

Meantime, INSA (the Ricardo Jorge Institute) continues to monitor the evolution of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that causes Covid-19, not registering “any developments in terms of the serotypes of the viruses that are in circulation.

“That is a monitoring that must always be done and that will also be done, on a random basis, to passengers coming from Chinese territory. This monitoring component is an integral and immovable part of our surveillance programme to guarantee people’s safety,” stressed the minister.

Manuel Pizarro used the moment to reemphasise the call for people to keep up their vaccinations against Covid-19. Almost three million people have already received their seasonal booster doses, some are on their second round of boosters.

The European Commission has also acknowledged the “alarming” increase of Covid-19 cases in China and recommended surveillance measures to member states, such as sequencing samples.

In a letter sent to the health ministers of the 27 Member States, European Commissioner for Health Stella Kyriakides  says Brussels is “attentive to developments”, albeit, for now, “there are no common measures”.

Italy and Spain have already announced that they will carry out controls at airports on passengers coming from China, while elsewhere the United Kingdom, United States, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and India have said they will too.