Germany will require compulsory coronavirus testing for people entering from China because of the wave of infections there, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said on Thursday.
Lauterbach said that Germany would require "at least a rapid test" taken shortly before departure. He said spot tests would also be carried out at random on some arrivals, "to recognize virus variants."
This follows an EU recommendation on Wednesday that member states consider this course of action if they see fit. Although such decisions ultimately rest with national governments, the EU often provides recommendations, partly in a bid to ensure more uniform actions from EU members.
EU countries tried and failed this week to reach agreement on a binding universal policy for the whole bloc, but ended up "strongly" encouraging a course of action instead.
Lauterbach, who is also a doctor, called the EU's recommendation a "good decision."
"On this basis we are now also changing German entry rules at short notice," Lauterbach said.
US, much of Europe and wider world taking similar steps
Several countries in Europe and around the world are implementing similar requirements as China battles a wave of COVID cases.
The World Health Organization's Mike Ryan this week warned that China might be under-reporting its hospitalization and death figures. This followed comparable comments late in December from WHO chief executive Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
A spokesman for China's foreign ministry responded on Thursday by saying that its "epidemic situation is controllable" and that it hoped the WHO would "uphold a scientific, objective and impartial decision."
The US will impose mandatory tests on arrivals from China beginning on January 5 for all children aged 2 and older. They will need to present a negative test taken no more than two days prior to departure.
US President Joe Biden also said this week of China that "they're very sensitive ... when we suggest they haven't been that forthcoming" on details about their caseload.
France, which had spearheaded the push for a common EU line, was among the first to announce its plans, which appear similar to Germany's, requiring negative rapid tests from before departure, and possible random PCR tests on arrival.
In the UK, arrivals from China also need a negative rapid test taken before departure, starting this Thursday.
Within the EU, Belgium, Spain, Sweden and Italy are among other members to have already announced comparable plans.
Further afield, countries including India, Israel, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, Japan, South Korea have announced planned restrictions on travel from China.
BioNTech-Pfizer vaccines arrive in China for German citizens
Meanwhile, the German embassy in Beijing on Thursday said that it had received the first doses of the German-developed and US-funded BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine, also known as Comirnaty.
A spokesman for the embassy said they hoped the first vaccines could be administered "as soon as possible."
German government spokesmen Steffen Hebestreit had earlier said China that had provided special dispensation for German citizens there to receive the Western vaccination.
China's health authorities have yet to formally recognize Western vaccines for use in China, just as Chinese ones have received either limited or no approval in most of the West. Even the WHO only approved Chinese vaccines for "emergency" use.
Both sides do tend, however, to accept proof of vaccination with each other's products for travelers.
Roughly 20,000 German citizens currently reside in China and the exemption applies to them only.
China's homemade vaccines are traditional ones more similar to the AstraZeneca vaccine than those made by BioNTech-Pfizer and Moderna — so-called mRNA vaccines — which tests suggest provide the best protection against COVID.
Less effective vaccines are often cited as one possible reason for China's wave of cases now, after years of it boasting some of the lowest numbers in the world per capita.
The country's draconian and long-running approach to lockdowns, only recently and rather abruptly lifted following public protests, could be another. This is because public exposure to the virus has been less widespread in the early stages of the pandemic, potentially meaning fewer people gathered a natural resistance to it.