BEIJING (Reuters) - China has barred non-Chinese travellers from Britain, France, Belgium, the Philippines and India, imposing some of the most stringent entry curbs of any country as coronavirus cases surge around the world.
The restrictions, which cover those with valid visas and residence permits and take effect in conjunction with a more restrictive testing regime for arrivals from several other countries, drew a frosty response from Britain.
"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 as the blanket bans were announced by the five countries' Chinese embassies.
England started a month-long lockdown on Thursday. Britain's virus death toll is the highest in Europe, and it is grappling with more than 20,000 new cases a day.
Belgium has Europe's highest per capita number of new confirmed cases, while France and India are among the top five countries in the world with the most infections.
The suspensions were 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.
'SOLD OUT IN SECONDS'
Meanwhile, many people planning November visits to China scrambled to book earlier flights to circumvent potentially disruptive restrictions due to come into force for other countries from Friday.
Linyi Li, a Chinese national, had planned to fly from Seattle to China in mid-November but switched her flight to Nov. 6 even though fares had tripled.
"The tickets were sold out in seconds, as people were all scrambling to beat the deadline," said 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."
From Friday, all passengers from the United States, France, Germany and Thailand bound for mainland China must take a nucleic acid test and a blood test for antibodies against the coronavirus no more than 48 hours before boarding.
Flights scheduled for Friday are not covered by the new rule, since passengers would have done their tests before that day under previous requirements.
China also plans to impose dual-test requirements on travellers from Australia, Singapore and Japan from Nov. 8.
The European Union Chamber of Commerce in China said the antibody test was not widely available in many countries.
"(So) 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," said the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China.
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 and including 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% from a year earlier to 592, the latest schedules show.
(Reporting by Ryan Woo, Lusha Zhang, Dominique Patton, Stella Qiu, Gabriel Crossley, Martin Pollard and Shivani Singh; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and John Stonestreet)