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China bars arrivals from France over virus fears

COVID-19 first emerged in central China late last year, but Beijing has largely brought its outbreak under control through tight travel restrictions and stringent health measures for anyone entering the country.

People wearing protective masks to help stop the spread of a deadly virus which began in Wuhan, wait next to their suitcases at the Beijing railway station in Beijing on 27 January 2020. Picture: AFP

BEIJING - Beijing has banned foreign arrivals from France and a host of other countries, the latest in a growing number of entry bans as China closes itself off from a world still battling the coronavirus pandemic.

COVID-19 first emerged in central China late last year, but Beijing has largely brought its outbreak under control through tight travel restrictions and stringent health measures for anyone entering the country.

In March, as the virus ripped across the world, China shut its borders to all foreign nationals, although it had gradually eased the restrictions in recent months.

But in a sharp about-turn, Chinese embassies in countries including Britain, Belgium, India and the Philippines said this week that Beijing had decided to "temporarily suspend" entries by non-Chinese nationals.

France was among the latest to join that list, with a statement on the Chinese embassy website dated Thursday saying non-Chinese arrivals would be barred from entering the country.

Chinese embassies in Russia, Italy, Ethiopia and Nigeria also announced similar measures.

The European Union Chamber of Commerce in China slammed the move on Friday as a "serious body blow to business sentiment".

"Many of the foreign residents stuck outside of China since March are now back to square one, and we fear that many will simply give up trying to return," Joerg Wuttke, president of the EU chamber, said in a statement.

Beijing defended the new restrictions on Thursday as "reasonable and fair" and said it was "drawing on the practices of many countries".

China has also recently tightened requirements for travellers from several other countries, making entry much more difficult and sparking complaints that the strict new rules represent an effective ban on entry.

In France, officials are hoping a new coronavirus lockdown will bring down soaring numbers of infections, with new daily cases topping 40,000 over the past week, while Italy has imposed strict new restrictions on freedom of movement in four regions.

Russia has listed a total of nearly 1.7 million infections and more than 29,000 deaths.