China issues temporary travel bans for six countries as COVID-19 spikes in Europe

Foreign Affairs

Chinese embassies in at least six countries — Belgium, France, the U.K., India, Bangladesh, and the Philippines — have said that non-Chinese citizens are temporarily banned from coming to China.

Police officers on horses check exemption certificates and verify identities in Paris, France, after the country reimposed a monthlong nationwide COVID-19 lockdown on October 31, 2020. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier.

After the initial phase of the COVID-19 outbreak in China, when Beijing fiercely criticized other countries for blocking Chinese citizens at their borders, Chinese officials changed their mind about travel bans.

Now some restrictions are coming back. According to Reuters and Sixth Tone, in at least six countries, Chinese embassies have announced temporary bans on non-Chinese citizens traveling to China, citing risks from renewed surges in COVID-19 cases around the world. These countries include:

  • Belgium
  • France
  • The United Kingdom
  • India
  • Bangladesh
  • The Philippines

Half of these countries — the ones in Europe — have indeed seen alarming spikes in COVID-19 cases. Belgium has some of the most new cases per capita out of any country, according to the Financial Times tracker, and France and the U.K. both recently announced nationwide lockdowns on businesses to tamp down virus transmissions.

  • The British Chamber of Commerce in China didn’t appreciate what it called the “abruptness of the announcement and the blanket ban on entry,” and said that it would “await further clarification on when it will be lifted.”

The selection of the other three are harder to make sense of at first glance. Sixth Tone points out that “neither Bangladesh nor the Philippines is currently experiencing a dramatic uptick in cases.” India’s per-capita cases are only slightly higher than Bangladesh’s, and are lower than at the end of September, according to the most recent data in the FT tracker.

  • “This is a reasonable and legitimate move consistent with international customary practices,” a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said today (English, Chinese) of the temporary travel bans.

More travel restrictions coming?

It might not be worth looking too much into the choice of countries that China has put travel bans on, at least not yet, because different types of restrictions are being applied widely, and more could be coming soon.

  • Negative COVID-19 and antibody tests before travel are required for “most if not all foreign and Chinese nationals flying” into China as of this week, Sixth Tone reported.
  • The dual test requirements begin to apply for passengers from the United States, France, Germany, and Thailand starting on November 5, and will be extended to Australia, Singapore, and Japan from November 8, Reuters clarifies.
  • An unofficial travel restriction also came earlier this week when “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,” per Reuters.

However, as with the earlier reopening to foreign permanent residents, we think it is notable that the U.S. has not been singled out for a travel ban by Beijing — and suspect that this is likely a calculated move by China to avoid escalating tensions amid the American election.

Correction: This story originally stated that China’s travel ban in March barred “even permanent residency holders from entering.” This is incorrect, as the ban applied to those holding temporary residence permits, but did not affect those with a Permanent Resident Certificate.