China on Thursday announced a temporary ban on entry of foreigners holding valid visas or residence permits and drastically cut worldwide flights in a bid to prevent a second wave of infections amid a surge in the number of imported cases in the country.
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.
Foreign nationals seeking entry to China "for necessary economic, trade, scientific or technological activities or out of emergency humanitarian needs" can still apply at its embassies and consulates, the notice said. More than 100 countries have enacted travel restrictions or border closures since the global spread of the pathogen.
Chinese authorities implemented unprecedented lockdown measures in dozens of cities to curb the spread of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, starting in late January.
While the global pandemic originated in China months ago, the epicentre has shifted to other regions of the world, hitting southern Europe and some of the biggest United States cities hard. It has infected more than 440,000 people and killed more than 20,000 outside of China.
As the number of China's reported domestic COVID-19 cases has dwindled, it has had to contend with imported infections from recent overseas arrivals. However, locals report a different situation on the ground, saying hospitals are still full of COVID-19 patients.
The most of the 500 imported infections involved Chinese nationals returning home, according to the foreign affairs ministry. The province's capital of Wuhan will end restrictions on travel on April 8.
China's civil aviation authority on Thursday slashed incoming and outgoing flights to a maximum of one per airline per foreign country each week.
The adjusted flight routes are expected to start running from March 29, it added. Previously, Shanghai had not been quarantining people without symptoms arriving from locations deemed to be low risk. Entry by foreign nationals with visas issued after this announcement will not be affected.