China has not reported any new domestic COVID-19 infections for two consecutive days but officials have raised concerns about the number of imported cases. — AFP/VNA Photo
BEIJING — China will drastically cut its international flight routes and bar entry to returning foreigners based in the country to stem the spread of the coronavirus, authorities said on Thursday.
The country has not reported any new domestic COVID-19 infections for two consecutive days but officials have raised concerns about the number of imported cases, which have now surpassed 500.
Foreigners living in China with valid visas and resident permits will be blocked from returning to the country after midnight Saturday, the foreign ministry said in a statement.
"The suspension is a temporary measure that China is compelled to take in light of the outbreak situation," it added.
The most of the 500 imported infections involved Chinese nationals returning home, according to the foreign affairs ministry.
Diplomats and the crew of international airlines and vessels will still be permitted into the country, according to the statement.
Flights out of China will be capped at just one route a week to each country, with international airlines also permitted only one route.
The Civil Aviation Administration of China also said the passenger load on flights in and out of China should not exceed 75 per cent.
The adjusted flight routes are expected to start running from March 29, it added.
All Beijing-bound international flights have been diverted to other urban centres.
Many Chinese cities including Beijing and Shanghai have already imposed a compulsory 14-day quarantine for all arrivals from abroad.
There were nearly 1,100 return international passenger flights scheduled to come to China this week.
Trump to discuss coronavirus with China's Xi
President Donald Trump said he would speak by phone with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping later Thursday as the US overtook China as the country with the most coronavirus cases.
Trump told a press conference he would be speaking to Xi at 9pm (0100 GMT Friday).
With 82,404 cases of infection, the US has now surpassed virus hotspots China and Italy, according to a tracker run by Johns Hopkins University.
However Trump cast doubt on this, saying "you don't know what the numbers are in China."
Trump said he and Xi would be discussing the global pandemic and insisted they have a "very good relationship."
However, he touched on a nasty row that has erupted in both countries over blame for the disease.
While Trump has made a point of repeatedly calling COVID-19 the "Chinese virus," because it first blew up in the city of Wuhan, this has angered some in China and sparked accusations of race-baiting at home.
Trump says he is pushing back because a Chinese foreign ministry official has led a conspiracy theory that US soldiers brought the virus to China.
"No it came from China," he underlined on Thursday, although adding, "if they feel so strongly about it, we'll see."
Aside from coronavirus and the massive economic fallout resulting from mass social distancing strategies around the world, Trump and Xi are likely to discuss plans to negotiate a new trade agreement between the world's two biggest economies. — VNS