Mainland China has barred entry to non-Chinese visitors from Britain, Belgium and the Philippines and demanded travellers from the United States, France and Germany present results of additional health tests, as coronavirus cases rise around the world.
In some of the most stringent border restrictions imposed by any country in response to the pandemic, China has temporarily suspended entry of non-Chinese nationals travelling from the United Kingdom even if they hold valid visas and residence permits, the Chinese embassy in Britain said.
The Chinese embassies in Belgium and the Philippines released similar statements announcing restrictions on travellers from the two countries.
The rejection of non-Chinese travellers from Britain came as England entered a month-long lockdown starting Thursday. Britain's death toll is the highest in Europe and it is grappling with more than 20,000 new coronavirus cases a day.
Belgium has Europe's highest per capita number of new confirmed cases, while the Philippines has the second-highest number of infections and deaths in Southeast Asia after Indonesia.
The suspension was a partial reversal of an easing on 28 September, when China allowed all foreigners with valid residence permits to enter. In March, China had banned entry of foreigners in response to the epidemic.
Starting 6 November, all passengers from the United States, France, Germany and Thailand bound for mainland China must take both a nucleic acid test and a blood test for antibodies against the coronavirus. The tests must be done no more than 48 hours before boarding.
If the passenger needs to make a transit stop en route to China, the same tests must be done in the transit country or region.
Linyi Li, a Chinese national, had planned to fly from Seattle to China in mid-November but switched to her flight to 6 November to circumvent the rule, even though fares had tripled.
"The tickets were sold out in seconds, as people were all scrambling to beat the deadline," said Li, 30. "I've been rushing to sell many of my family belongings in the past days in case I can't get back to the States."
Similar requirements were imposed on travellers from countries such as Australia, Singapore and Japan, from 8 November.
The dual-testing requirement was not unprecedented. Passengers arriving on specially arranged flights from countries such as India can undergo several rounds of those tests.
The European Union Chamber of Commerce in China said it saw no reason to change the current system.
"Unfortunately, while technically leaving the door open, these changes imply a de facto ban on anyone trying to get back to their lives, work and families in China," it said.
The chamber also said the antibody test was not widely available in many countries.
On Tuesday, 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 such as India and the Philippines.
The number of weekly international passenger flights serving mainland China from late October through March is set to slump 96.8% from a year earlier to 592, the latest schedules show.