China bars entry to travellers from Britain, Belgium, heightens test requirements

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Mainland China has barred entry to some travellers from Britain and Belgium and set strict testing requirements on visitors from the United States, France and Germany, as it reimposed border restrictions in response to rising global coronavirus cases.

Because of 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 on Wednesday.

The Chinese embassy in Belgium released a similar statement announcing restrictions on travellers from Belgium, which has Europe’s highest per capita number of new confirmed cases.

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.

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.

Mainland China has also started to tighten some of the most stringent requirements in the world on travellers arriving from other foreign destinations.

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.

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 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% from a year earlier to 592, the latest schedules show.