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China has closed its borders to all non-Chinese travellers from the UK, France, Belgium, the Philippines and India in an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus. Even those with valid visas and residence permits will be barred from entering the country.
The travel ban coincides with a more restrictive testing regime for arrivals from several other countries.
Britain has hit out at the new measures and has asked for further information on how long the rules will be in place for.
The British Chamber of Commerce in China said: “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.”
The travel ban was announced by the five countries’ Chinese embassies on Thursday.
Beijing has defended the move, with Wang Wenbin, China’s foreign ministry spokesman, saying: “China has referred to the practices of many countries and adjusted its approach to relevant people coming to China based on changes in the pandemic situation.
“This is reasonable and consistent with international practice, and I believe people can understand it.”
The news prompted a wave of panic buying as people scrambled to book last-minute flights to China before the travel ban came into effect from Friday.
Linyi Li, a Chinese national, had planned to fly from Seattle to China in mid-November but switched her flight to November 6 even though fares had tripled.
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She said: “The tickets were sold out in seconds, as people were all scrambling to beat the deadline.”
Beijing has targeted countries with high infection rates in the new travel ban.
The UK has the highest coronavirus death toll in Europe and is grappling with more than 20,000 new cases a day.
England went back into national lockdown on Thursday, which is set to last for four weeks.
France and Belgium have also reimposed national lockdowns.
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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 Philippines is also seeing a surge in new infections and has southeast Asia’s second-worst coronavirus outbreak.
Several other countries also face fresh restrictions, with passengers from the US, Germany and Thailand told to take a nucleic acid test and a blood test for antibodies against the coronavirus no more than 48 hours before boarding.
China also plans to impose dual-test requirements on travellers from Australia, Singapore and Japan from November 8.
The European Union Chamber of Commerce in China criticised the new measures and said the antibody test was not widely available in many countries.
They said: “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.”
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