New Delhi: China has barred non-Chinese travellers from Britain, Belgium, the Philippines and India, imposing some of the most stringent entry curbs of any country as global coronavirus cases surge.
The new suspension order is a partial reversal of an easing on September 28, through which China had allowed all foreigners with valid residence permits to enter, reported Hindustan Times. It comes in the immediate aftermath of 23 Indians who had arrived on a Vande Bharat flight from New Delhi testing positive for COVID-19 upon reaching Wuhan on October 30.
Indian government sources have revealed that New Delhi has been in touch with Chinese authorities to facilitate “essential travel of Indians to and from India”.
“The announcement made by the Chinese Embassy indicates that the measure is a temporary action and that changes can be expected in a timely manner,” stated sources.
It was also pointed out that the notice from Chinese government has not banned future visa applications, with visas issued after November 3 to be valid for travel to India.
“The measure is not India-specific. It is noted that similar measures have been announced in respect of several other countries. The reason behind the measure seems to be Chinese concerns on possible rise in COVID-19 cases globally, aggravated due to the onset of autumn and winter in the Northern Hemisphere,” added the sources.
The new restrictions, which cover those with valid visas and residence permits and take effect in conjunction with a more restrictive testing regime for arrivals from several other countries, drew a frosty response from Britain.
“We are concerned by the abruptness of the announcement and the blanket ban on entry, and await further clarification on when it will be lifted,” said the British Chamber of Commerce in China as the blanket bans were announced by the four countries’ Chinese embassies.
England started a month-long lockdown on Thursday. Britain’s virus death toll is the highest in Europe and it is grappling with more than 20,000 new cases a day.
Belgium has Europe’s highest per capita number of new confirmed cases, while the Philippines has the second-highest number of infections and deaths in Southeast Asia after Indonesia.
The suspensions were a partial reversal of an easing on September 28, when China allowed all foreigners with valid residence permits to enter. In March, China had banned entry of foreigners in response to the epidemic.
‘Sold out in seconds’
Meanwhile, many people planning November visits to China scrambled to book earlier flights to circumvent potentially disruptive restrictions due to come into force for other countries from Friday.
Linyi Li, a Chinese national, had planned to fly from Seattle to China in mid-November but switched her flight to November 6 even though fares had tripled.
“The tickets were sold out in seconds, as people were all scrambling to beat the deadline,” said Li, 30. “I’ve been rushing to sell many of my family belongings in the past days in case I can’t get back to the States.”
From Friday, all passengers from the United States, France, Germany and Thailand bound for mainland China must take a nucleic acid test and a blood test for antibodies against the coronavirus no more than 48 hours before boarding.
Flights scheduled for Friday are not covered by the new rule, since passengers would have done their tests before that day under previous requirements.
China also plans to impose dual-test requirements on travellers from Australia, Singapore and Japan from November 8.
The European Union Chamber of Commerce in China said the antibody test was not widely available in many countries.
“(So) unfortunately, while technically leaving the door open, these changes imply a de facto ban on anyone trying to get back to their lives, work and families in China,” said the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China.
On Tuesday, China Southern Airlines, the country’s biggest carrier by passenger load, said it would suspend transit services for passengers embarking from 21 countries, mostly African and Asian countries and including India and the Philippines.
The number of weekly international passenger flights serving mainland China from late October through March is set to slump 96.8% from a year earlier to 592, the latest schedules show.
(With Reuters inputs)