COVID test required of arrivals from China

Australia will impose mandatory COVID-19 testing for travellers arriving from China as cases rise in the key tourism and business market.

Health Minister Mark Butler says travellers in China will need to take a COVID test within 48 hours before travel and show evidence of a negative result before coming to Australia, starting from January 5.

He cited the "lack of comprehensive information" from Beijing to the international community about the outbreak gripping the nation of 1.4 billion people.

"The decision to implement these temporary measures has been made out of an abundance of caution, taking into account the dynamic and evolving situation in China and the potential for new variants to emerge in an environment of high transmission," Mr Butler said in Adelaide on Sunday.

The mandatory testing will apply to travellers from Hong Kong and Macau in addition to mainland China.

Australia has now joined the US, France, India, Japan, Malaysia, Spain, South Korea and England among other nations in introducing similar measures.

Mr Butler said the government would provide further detail on the type of test passengers would need to take, but it was important to ensure they were "robust and verifiable".

"The Australian government shares the concerns that have been expressed over recent days by a number of other governments and importantly by the World Health Organisation," he said.

"The World Health Organisation has described such measures as understandable."

The health minister said advice provided by the nation's chief medical officers said travel between the two countries posed no immediate public health threat to Australia, which was well placed to manage the pandemic.

He said the Omicron variant BF.7, which is behind the wave of infections in China, had been present in Australia as early as mid-2021.

Mr Butler said the government also intended to explore the feasibility of testing the wastewater from aircraft, in addition to widespread community wastewater testing to bolster Australia's detection capacity.

He said the government had shared its decision with Chinese authorities on Sunday, but were yet to receive a response.

Opposition health spokeswoman Anne Ruston criticised the government for not having released the health advice.

"The opposition strongly supports any measures that protects the lives and livelihoods of Australians," she said.

"The opposition will seek a briefing from the chief medical officer on this decision but the Labor government must be transparent with the public, and release the health modelling and advice."

Australia would also strengthen its tracing of people who test positive within 14 days of arriving from overseas.

Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson described the decision as a "sensible measure".

"Importantly, this decision does not close the door to Chinese students returning to Australia to start or continue their university studies," she said.

The health minister said the resumption of travel between the two countries was "really important" for economic activity, particularly in the tourism and education sectors.

"These arrangements have not been put in place lightly," Mr Butler said.