China has banned foreigners with valid visas and residence permits from entering the country in a drastic move that amounts almost to a total shutdown of its borders as it also severely restricts international flights.
In a late-night announcement last night, its foreign ministry said that only diplomats, those engaged in emergency humanitarian work, or "necessary economic, trade, scientific or technological activities" and those with C visas are exempted from the suspension, which begins tomorrow.
C visas are given to foreigners who provide international transportation services.
"The suspension is a temporary measure that China is compelled to take in light of the (coronavirus) outbreak situation and the practices of other countries," the ministry said in its statement.
In another move aimed at curbing cases of the virus being imported into the country, the civil aviation authority said foreign airlines will be allowed to operate just one route per week from Sunday.
Domestic airlines, too, will be restricted to flying to only one country no more than once a week. The announcement comes as the health authorities yesterday said it had recorded a high of 67 imported cases on Wednesday, up from 47 the day before.
While the country has not registered any locally transmitted cases for two days in a row, the number of inbound infections has climbed to 541.
As many as 90 per cent of these are Chinese nationals, said Vice-Foreign Minister Luo Zhaohui yesterday. Of all the Chinese nationals who are now flocking home, 40 per cent are students studying overseas who are coming back as the virus spreads rapidly in other parts of the world.
"We understand some students abroad are anxious to come home," Mr Luo said.
"But under the current circumstances, by staying put, they can avoid being cross-infected in the rush to come home or risk being stuck mid-way should the countries they transit tighten border controls."
The Chinese Civil Aviation Administration yesterday also ordered airlines to cap their passenger load at 75 per cent, while allowing them to use passenger planes for cargo-only flights.