The director of the World Health Organization for Europe, Dr. Hans Kluge, says that the continued increase of COVID-19 in China is not expected to have a significant impact on the European region.

Kluge, in a statement on Tuesday, explained that this was because the two variants circulating in China were already present in European countries, according to data provided by the Chinese authorities.

“We share the current opinion of the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control that the ongoing surge in China is not anticipated to significantly affect the epidemiological situation of COVID-19 in the WHO European Region at this time,” he said. Kluge.

The senior WHO official acknowledged that China had shared information on the sequencing of the virus, but called for more detailed and regular information, especially on local epidemiology and variants to better assess the evolution of the situation.

Kluge also said that European countries’ travel restrictions on visitors from China were not unreasonable, “while we wait for more detailed information to be shared via publicly available databases.”

But he said it was important that the travel precautions being introduced by European countries had scientific roots, were proportionate and non-discriminatory.

The message comes as Chinese embassies suspended issuing new visas for South Korean and Japanese visitors on Tuesday. The announcement covered tourist, business, and a few other visa categories.

The move appears to be in response to recent COVID-19 testing requirements imposed by those countries on travelers from China.

A notice posted in Seoul reportedly said the ban would continue until South Korea lifted its “discriminatory entry measures” against China.

At least ten countries in Europe, North America and Asia have announced new virus testing requirements for travelers from China, with officials raising concerns about a lack of adequate information on fast-spreading virus outbreaks in China.

In two other messages to the WHO European Region, Kluge warned against countries greatly reducing their COVID-19 surveillance capacity.

In the first five weeks of 2022, variant information on 1.2 million cases was sent as part of the weekly surveillance data to WHO and ECDC.

However, this dropped to around 90,000 cases in the last five weeks of the year.

Kluge stressed that countries must take advantage of the lessons learned in the last three years and be able to anticipate, detect and respond to SARS-CoV-2 and any emerging health threats in time.

He praised European countries, including Denmark, France, Germany and the United Kingdom, which have maintained strong genomic surveillance.

He noted that his recent data had begun to indicate the increasing presence of the new recombinant virus XBB.1.5, derived from the Omicron variant, which had already been spreading rapidly in the United States.

The new strain is being “recognized in small but increasing numbers, and we are working to assess its potential impact.

“With many countries dealing with overburdened health systems, shortages of essential medicines and an exhausted health workforce, we cannot afford more pressure on our health systems,” he said.

Kluge urged countries in Europe and Central Asia to step up efforts to implement effective strategies to combat the spread of COVID-19 and avoid being complacent.

Passengers should be advised to wear masks for long journeys

Meanwhile, WHO’s senior emergency officer for Europe, Catherine Smallwood, said passengers should be advised to wear masks in high-risk settings, such as long-haul flights, adding that “this should be a recommendation issued for passengers arriving from any place where there are a large number of people. Transmission of COVID-19.”

Smallwood further stated that “countries should look at the evidence base for pre-departure testing,” adding that “our view is that travel measures should be implemented in a non-discriminatory manner.”