Austria to monitor wastewater of flights from China

VIENNA (AFP): Austria will start monitoring wastewater from aircraft from China and in top Chinese tourist attractions as Europe mulls restrictions for those from the Covid-19 hit country, the government said Tuesday.

As Beijing has decided to lift its “zero Covid” policy, the European Union fears a sudden influx of passengers from China could bring Covid variants that may be able to evade current vaccines.

“Starting next week, Austria will examine samples from the wastewater from aircraft from China,” Austria’s health ministry said in a statement.

It added wastewater from the sewage plant of the picturesque village of Hallstatt — a top Chinese tourist destination — would also be analysed.

This is in addition to wastewater in the cities of Vienna and Salzburg, which is already being monitored as part of a national programme launched at the beginning of last year.

“With this, some places frequently visited by tourists from China are regularly examined,” the ministry said.

“This makes it possible to discover new virus variants, even if visitors from China have not entered the country with direct flights.”

The European Commission said on Tuesday that an “overwhelming majority” of the EU’s 27 member countries wanted passengers coming from China to be systematically tested for Covid before departure.

The consensus recommendation emerged from a meeting of EU health ministry officials held Tuesday in Brussels.

A crisis meeting to be held Wednesday on the issue will decide what coordinated measures will be applied across the bloc.

EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides said the officials also agreed to recommend stepped-up monitoring of wastewater from flights and at airports to detect traces of Covid, and for member states to boost surveillance.