Beijing: China on Thursday indefinitely suspended air travel from India, barring non-Chinese travellers from coming into the country following a spike in Covid-19 cases in last week’s Vande Bharat Mission (VBM) flight.
While commercial flights between India and China haven’t resumed, Air India has been operating special repatriation flights under the VBM mechanism to different Chinese cities.
The new measure means four VBM flights scheduled every week from November 13 onwards will have to be rescheduled.
Beijing made similar announcements on barring the entry of non-Chinese visitors from Britain, Belgium and the Philippines, and demanded travellers from the US, France and Germany present the results of additional health tests as part of measures to counter a resurgence in Coronavirus cases around the world.
The new suspension order was a partial reversal of an easing on September 28, when Beijing allowed all foreigners with valid residence permits to enter. China had banned the entry of foreigners at the end of March.
In New Delhi, people familiar with developments said that the Chinese government’s announcement indicated the measure was a temporary action and that further changes could be expected in a timely manner. They said the Indian side is in touch with the Chinese side to facilitate essential travel by Indians to and from China.
Officials in Beijing said more than 1,500 Indians had registered to return to China, and Beijing’s announcement had created uncertainty.
China’s foreign ministry defended the decision, saying it was a “reasonable and fair” measure to tackle the pandemic. “China is drawing on the practices of many countries and adjusting its handling of the entry of the relevant people into China based on the changing pandemic situation,” ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told a regular news briefing.
The India-specific announcement said the Chinese embassy in New Delhi and the consulates in Mumbai and Kolkata wouldn’t stamp health certificates furnished by normal passport holders.
“Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s hereby announced that China has decided to temporarily suspend the entry into China by foreign nationals in India holding valid Chinese visas or residence permits,” the government said in its announcement.
“The Chinese Embassy/Consulates in India will not stamp the Health Declaration Forms for the holders of the above-mentioned categories of visa or residence permits,” it added. The statement clarified that foreigners holding “Chinese diplomatic, service, courtesy and C visas” wouldn’t be affected by the move.
“Foreigners with emergency or humanitarian needs to visit China, can submit visa application to the Chinese Embassy/Consulates in India. The entry into China with visas issued after November 3rd, 2020 is not affected,” the statement said.
“The suspension is a temporary measurement (sic) that China has to adopt to deal with the current pandemic. China will make further adjustment and announcement in accordance with the ongoing pandemic situation in a timely manner,” it added.
Twenty-three Indians on a VBM flight from New Delhi to the central Chinese city of Wuhan last Friday tested positive for Covid-19, of whom 19 were asymptomatic. The flight registered the highest number of infected people on an Indian repatriation flight to China so far.
The large number of cases – and the high incidence of the disease in India – prompted the Chinese embassy in New Delhi to change pre-boarding testing rules for Indians coming to China on special flights from November 7. he people cited above said Chinese authorities had acted only to temporarily suspend existing visas, and future visa applications had not been banned. “Visas issued after November 3 are valid for travel to China, and the measure isn’t India-specific. Similar measures have been announced for several other countries,” a person said.