China will ban most foreigners from entering the country starting at midnight on Friday in an effort to block the spread of the coronavirus through imported cases.
With several exceptions, including transit visas and foreigners arriving via Hong Kong and Macau with short-term entry permits, entry visas issued to foreigners will be suspended as an “interim measure”, according to a statement late Thursday by the country’s foreign ministry.
“In view of the rapid spread of the new coronavirus epidemic worldwide, China has decided to temporarily suspend entry of foreigners with currently valid visas and residence permits in China,” the ministry said.
“This is an interim measure that China has to take in order to respond to the current epidemic situation, with reference to the practice of many countries,” it added. “The Chinese side will adjust the above measures according to the epidemic situation through separate announcements.”
While the global pandemic originated in China months ago, the epicentre has shifted to other regions of the world, hitting southern Europe and some of the biggest US cities hard.
Chinese authorities implemented unprecedented lockdown measures in dozens of cities to curb the spread of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, starting in late January. Other countries now struggling to bring the epidemic under control have relied more on shutting non-essential businesses and social distancing guidance.
China had only 233 new cases in the week ended March 23, according to government data, while new cases outside of China in the same period were more than 166,000. That compares with 23,076 cases in China and 197 elsewhere in the first week of February.
Foreigners, however, account for a small minority of Covid-19 cases among incoming passengers, according to a report by Chinese state broadcaster CCTV.
Among infected passengers entering China, 90 per cent were Chinese nationals, CCTV said. Of that group, 40 per cent were students studying overseas.
China’s aviation authority had already taken measures to stem arrivals from other countries.
Effective on Sunday, each Chinese airline will be allowed to fly only one weekly route to one city per country, operating at no more than 75 per cent capacity, according to a statement by the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) earlier on Thursday.
Each overseas carrier will be limited to one weekly flight to China, at three-quarters capacity, the regulator said.
“To resolutely contain the increasing risks of imported Covid-19 cases, and in accordance with the requirements of the State Council for joint prevention and control of the pandemic, [the regulator] has decided to further reduce the number of international passenger flights,” the CAAC said.