China will temporarily bar the entry of almost all foreigners and drastically reduce flights to the country, as it tries to head off a second wave of infections caused by travellers coming from abroad.
The ban, which goes into effect at midnight on Friday, comes as the country reported its first locally infected coronavirus infection in three days and reported 54 imported cases. The move was greeted with broad support inside China.
The measure applies to those with valid visas or residence permits and amounts to China shutting its borders, inviting criticism given that Beijing previously condemned other countries for similar moves. The World Health Organization had also advised countries not to shut their borders to Chinese travellers.
China’s Civil Aviation Administration said late on Thursday that 90% of international flights would be suspended. The number of incoming passengers would be cut to 5,000 a day, from 25,000. China has also ordered local airlines to maintain only one route per country, once a week, as of 29 March.
Some say the new measures are unwarranted given already strict screening of arrivals and the fact that many incoming carriers of the virus are Chinese citizens. Vice foreign minister Luo Zhaohui said at a press conference this week that 90% of imported cases were Chinese passport holders.
In Beijing, all overseas arrivals must undergo quarantine at government-designated centres. Shanghai and other cities and provinces have implemented similarly strict rules.
As China prepares to return to work and officials lift lockdowns in Hubei province, the step was greeted with support online. “I support” several wrote in comments under news of the temporary
“This could not have been easy decision. I support it,” one wrote. “Foreigners should not be allowed in. Our frontline people fought so hard and foreigners are harder to regulate.”
“Finally,” several others commented. “We’ve waited very long for this,” another said. Others were angry that overseas Chinese would still be allowed to return home. “Those Chinese living overseas should just not come back,” one said.
The interim ban on foreigners could contribute further to diplomatic tensions as Beijing and Washington trade barbs over who is to blame for the outbreak that first emerged in central China in December before spreading to much of the rest of the world.
On Friday, US president Donald Trump and Chinese president Xi Jinping held a phone call about the outbreak. Trump said on Twitter that China had “developed a strong understanding of the virus” and was working with the US.
Donald J. Trump
Just finished a very good conversation with President Xi of China. Discussed in great detail the CoronaVirus that is ravaging large parts of our Planet. China has been through much & has developed a strong understanding of the Virus. We are working closely together. Much respect!
The US has now overtaken China in terms of infections, with more than 85,500 cases, compared to 81,340 in mainland China. The death toll in China was 3,292, according to health officials on Friday.
Donald Trump’s instinctive response was to question other countries’ statistics. “It’s a tribute to the amount of testing that we’re doing,” Trump told reporters. “We’re doing tremendous testing, and I’m sure you’re not able to tell what China is testing or not testing. I think that’s a little hard.”
In other developments in the coronavirus pandemic:
Australia announced it would quarantine all citizens returning home from overseas for two weeks and will deploy armed forces to ensure people already subjected to self-isolation measures are complying.
Global job losses from the coronavirus crisis could far exceed the 25 million estimated just days ago, UN officials said on Thursday, as US jobless claims surged to record levels.
British people took to their doorsteps and balconies to clap and bang pots and pans in honours of NHS workers. It took place on a day that saw the highest number of deaths from coronavirus – 115 – in the UK.
Jair Bolsonaro, the president of Brazil, said his citizens were immune from illness.
South Africa came under a nationwide military-patrolled lockdown on Friday, joining other African countries imposing strict curfews and shutdowns in an attempt to halt the spread of the coronavirus across the continent.
South Korea urged its residents to stay indoors and avoid large gatherings as new coronavirus cases hovered close to 100 per day.