China Seals Borders to Most Foreigners Starting Saturday

Crystal Chui, Belinda Cao and Nick Wadhams

(Bloomberg) -- China announced it will block almost all foreigners from entering the country starting Saturday, a recognition that most new coronavirus cases were coming from overseas now that the government slowed the spread of the disease among its own people.

Foreigners won’t be allowed to enter even with valid visas and work permits, the foreign ministry said in a statement late Thursday, in what it called a “necessary and temporary” step. Diplomats aren’t included in the order, and neither are people coming to China “to engage in necessary economic, trade, scientific and technological activities, and for urgent humanitarian needs,” it said.

The move mimics travel bans imposed by many other countries, which China had resisted when the majority of global cases were within its borders.

After President Donald Trump barred entry into the U.S. at the end of January by anyone who had been in China in the previous 14 days, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the step could “only create and spread fear, setting a bad example for others.”

But China changed its stance after getting the virus under control domestically and as cases have surged in countries around the world, including Italy, Spain and the U.S.

Greater Restrictions

In recent days, China had imposed greater restrictions on foreigners entering the country, including 14-day quarantines on people arriving from countries hit hard by the pandemic. The virus, which originated in the city of Wuhan, has infected a reported 82,000 people in China and killed nearly 3,300 there. A massive lockdown on people in the worst-affected areas has gradually brought the spread of the virus under control, and some cities have allowed workers to return to their jobs.

China had already been drastically scaling back the number of foreigners who could come to the country. Foreign airlines with routes to the country are only being permitted a few flights a week.

According to China’s National Health Commission, there were 67 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on the Chinese mainland Wednesday, all of them imported from overseas, the Xinhua News Agency reported. There were an additional 58 suspected cases, all of which were also from abroad.

(Updates throughout with details of statement, background on China’s response)

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