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China wants to curb the number of new cases coming into China with a temporary ban on foreigners, including those with a Chinese visa. Photo: AP Photo

‘Responsible and necessary’: China defends temporary travel ban on foreigners during pandemic

  • Beijing says it looked to other countries before formulating cross-border restrictions
  • Pledge to help mainlanders return home despite restricted flights
Beijing clarified its temporary ban on foreign travellers to China while defending its decision as “a responsible and necessary measure” to address risks of imported cases in the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Liu Haitao, director general for border control and management for the National Immigration Administration, said on Monday that Beijing’s ban would affect foreigners holding Chinese visas or residence permits, but it would not affect those with diplomatic, service or C visas.

Foreigners seeking to enter China for epidemic prevention and control, scientific research, international collaboration or humanitarian needs could apply or reapply for visas at overseas embassies and consulates, Liu said.

“This has been a measure that we took after consulting the practices of many other countries and it is a temporary restrictive measure that we have no choice but to adopt,” Liu said.

“We believe that in the current situation we should minimise unnecessary cross-border activities to effectively protect the lives and health of every citizen, including foreign nationals, by preventing pandemic transmission through individual travel for global health and safety. It is a responsible and necessary measure.”

Beijing’s temporary ban will affect foreigners holding Chinese visas or residence permits, but it will not affect those with diplomatic, service or C visas. Photo: Xinhua

On Monday, China reported that there had been 31 new cases of the coronavirus on Sunday, a drop from 45 new cases the day before. All but one of the new cases on Sunday had been imported.

This brought the official number of imported cases in China to 723, with the total confirmed cases reaching 81,470 and the overall death toll at 3,304, according to the National Health Commission.

Foreigners accounted for a small minority of imported cases. Around 90 per cent of imported cases had involved Chinese nationals, foreign vice-minister Luo Zhaohui said last week.

Liu said mainland residents who had travelled within the past 14 days would be barred from leaving.

Foreigners inside China who violated quarantine regulations would be processed by relevant authorities and barred from entering China for a certain time, he said. He did not specify what that period was.

Beijing has in the past criticised other countries for imposing travel restrictions, which run contrary to advice from the World Health Organisation.

The foreign ministry had earlier condemned restrictions on Chinese travellers: “Some countries, the US in particular, have inappropriately overreacted.”

In February, China’s deputy minister of foreign affairs Qin Gang expressed “strong dissatisfaction” and urged a reversal to Italy’s ambassador to China, Luca Ferrari, after Italy cut off direct flights.

Last week, China ordered Chinese and foreign airlines to further restrict flights to the country, effective from March 29, directing them to cut flights to only one per week and to operate only one route to the country.

But for overseas Chinese citizens seeking to return to China, Jin Junhao from the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) said on Monday that there would be “air transport mechanisms” to certain cities that could return citizens, and that civil aircraft could operate temporary and charter flights if needed.

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This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: China defends travel ban on foreigners as ‘necessary’