The moves have left unclear whether four repatriation flights announced by India for this month will go ahead on schedule

China on Thursday effectively barred travellers from India, the United Kingdom, Belgium and the Philippines by temporarily suspending valid visas.   | Photo Credit: AFP

The moves have left unclear whether four repatriation flights announced by India for this month will go ahead on schedule

China on Thursday effectively barred travellers from India, the United Kingdom, Belgium and the Philippines by temporarily suspending valid visas, with measures targeting other countries also expected as Beijing moves to tighten international travel restrictions citing a rising number of imported COVID-19 cases.

The moves have left unclear whether four repatriation flights announced by India for this month will go ahead on schedule. The Indian Embassy in Beijing said a Vande Bharat Mission (VBM) Delhi-Wuhan-Delhi flight set for November 6 will be rescheduled because the embassy “has not received the required clearances from the Chinese authorities”. Air India had scheduled further VBM flights for November 13, 20, 27 and December 4 to China.

On Tuesday, health authorities in Hubei province said 23 passengers on an October 30 Air India flight from New Delhi to Wuhan tested positive, of whom 19 were asymptomatic. Four symptomatic patients, including a couple travelling with a six-year-old, are being treated in hospital.

Essential travel

Officials sources said the Government of India “is in touch with the Chinese side to facilitate essential travel of Indians to and from China.”

“The announcement made by the Chinese Embassy indicates that the measure is a temporary action and that changes can be expected in a timely manner,” the sources said, adding that the action taken is to temporarily suspend existing visas only and future visa applications have not been banned.

“The measure is not India specific,” they added. “It is noted that similar measures have been announced in respect of several other countries. The reason behind the measure seems to be Chinese concerns on possible rise in COVID-19 cases globally, aggravated due to the advent of autumn and winter in the Northern Hemisphere.”

The announcement to bar travellers was made in separate and near-identical notices issued on Wednesday and Thursday by Chinese missions in India, the U.K., Belgium and the Philippines.

The Chinese Embassy in India said it had, because of the pandemic, "decided to temporarily suspend the entry into China by foreign nationals in India holding valid Chinese visas or residence permits” and “the Chinese Embassy/ Consulates in India will not stamp the Health Declaration Forms” that are needed to travel.

The notice added those "with emergency or humanitarian needs to visit China” can submit applications, and entry into China "with visas issued after November 3” is not affected. It said the suspension "is a temporary measurement that China has to adopt to deal with the current pandemic”.

Imported cases

With Beijing broadly controlling the local transmission of cases within the country and China returning to normalcy in recent months following stringent measures, authorities are now emphasising dealing with “imported” cases from international travellers as the current priority.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin in Beijing said the moves were “a temporary response necessitated by the current situation of COVID-19”.