China has imposed fresh travel bans on non-Chinese arrivals from Britain and Belgium, as it guards against a resurgence of the coronavirus by refusing entry to people from two of Europe’s worst-hit nations.
COVID-19 first emerged in central China late last year, but Beijing has largely brought its own outbreak under control through tight travel restrictions and stringent health measures for anyone entering the country.
In March, as the virus ripped across the world, China shut its borders to all foreign nationals.
It gradually eased those restrictions to allow those stranded overseas to return with special permission from its embassies, negative COVID-19 tests and a two-week quarantine on arrival.
But in a sharp reversal as the outbreak once more billows out across Europe, the Chinese embassy in the UK said Beijing had “decided to temporarily suspend entry into China by non-Chinese nationals.”
“The suspension is a temporary response necessitated by the current situation of COVID-19,” it said Wednesday.
The Chinese embassy website in Belgium announced a similar ban on travelers as a “last resort in response to the current pandemic.”
The Chinese foreign ministry did not immediately reply to an Agence France-Presse (AFP) request for comment.
The UK, one of the world’s hardest hit countries with nearly 48,000 deaths linked to the virus and more than one million cases, has entered a new nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of the pandemic.
Belgium, which has the most COVID-19 cases per capita in the world, has been in lockdown since last week.
The websites of Chinese embassies in other European countries were not carrying similar notices on Thursday morning, and citizens of these countries with visas are able to travel to China, subject to conditions.
Beijing has recently tightened requirements for travelers from several countries, making entry much more difficult.
These requirements include the presentation of a health certificate from the local Chinese embassy showing the results of a nucleic acid test and an antibody test – within 48 hours of travel.
The new rules apply to travelers from countries including France, India, Singapore, Canada, Germany, Pakistan, South Africa and the U.S.
The strict two-test entry requirement and short time frame have sparked complaints.
The European Chamber of Commerce in China said the measures were “a de facto ban on anyone trying to get back to their lives, work and families in China.”