China blocks travellers from coronavirus-hit Britain, Belgium, Philippines

Because of the pandemic, China has temporarily suspended entry of non-Chinese nationals living in the United Kingdom.
Because of the pandemic, China has temporarily suspended entry of non-Chinese nationals living in the United Kingdom.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (REUTERS) - Mainland China has barred entry to some non-Chinese visitors from Britain, Belgium and the Philippines, and demanded travellers from the United States, France and Germany present results of additional health tests, as coronavirus cases rise around the world.

In some of the most stringent border restrictions imposed by any country in response to the pandemic, China has temporarily suspended entry of non-Chinese nationals travelling from the United Kingdom even if they hold valid visas and residence permits, the Chinese embassy in Britain said. 

The Chinese embassies in Belgium and the Philippines released similar statements announcing restrictions on travellers from the two countries.

“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.

The rejection of non-Chinese travellers from Britain came as England entered a month-long lockdown starting Thursday.

Britain’s death toll is the highest in Europe and it is grappling with more than 20,000 new coronavirus 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 South-east Asia after Indonesia.  

The suspension was a partial reversal of an easing on Sept 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.

Starting Nov 6, all passengers from the United States, France and Germany bound for mainland China must take both a nucleic acid test and a blood test for antibodies against the coronavirus. The tests must be done no more than 48 hours before boarding.

If the passenger needs to make a transit stop en route to China, the same tests must be done in the transit country or region.

Ms Linyi Li, a Chinese national, had planned to fly from Seattle to China in mid-November but switched to her flight to Nov 6 to circumvent the rule, even though fares had tripled.

"The tickets were sold out in seconds, as people were all scrambling to beat the deadline," said Ms 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."

Similar requirements were imposed on travellers from countries such as Australia, Singapore and Japan, from Nov 8.

The dual-testing requirement was not unprecedented.

Passengers arriving on specially arranged flights from countries such as India can undergo several rounds of those tests.

The European Union Chamber of Commerce in China said it saw no reason to make tweaks in the current system.

"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," it said.

The chamber also said the antibody test was not widely available in many countries.

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 such as 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 per cent from a year earlier to 592, the latest schedules show.