Ahead of the Shanghai world Expo that is expected to bring a large influx of tourists, China has lifted a 20-year-old ban on entry for foreigners with HIV, AIDS, other sexually-transmitted diseases and leprosy.
The ban, which has evoked a great deal of criticism from home and abroad was removed after gaining more knowledge about the diseases and the realisation that it has a very limited effect in preventing and controlling diseases within the country, a statement by the State Council, the apex body of Chinese central government in Beijing said.
The ban has, instead, caused inconvenience for the country when hosting various international activities, the statement reported by official Xinhua news agency said.
The removal of the ban, which was on cards for some time now, was announced as the Shanghai Expo being projected by the Chinese government as its second biggest international event after 2008 Olympics, was due to be inaugurated on May 1.
About 70 million visitors from home and abroad were expected to visit China during the time.
Over $ 58 billion was reportedly spent sprucing the Shanghai city for the six-month long event.
The time ban apparently has been lifted for good as no time frame was mentioned.
In the past it was temporarily lifted for various large- scale events including the 1990 Beijing Asian Games, the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995 and the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
The candid official admission that the ban had limited effect stems from the fact that China has an estimated 7.40 lakh people with HIV in 2009.
About 49,845 people died of AIDS since the first case was reported in 1985.
The previous ban was imposed in accordance with the "limited knowledge about HIV/AIDS and other diseases," the statement said.
Mao Qun'an, spokesman for the Ministry of Health, said the groundwork for the lifting of the ban began years ago.
The ministry had been advocating lifting the restriction since the Beijing Olympic Games. It took a few more years only because of the necessary procedures.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who commended President Hu Jintao for the decision, has welcomed the development.
Activists, who said it indicates that the Chinese government had begun treating the disease as a public health issue, also welcomed the lifting of the ban.
"Previously, China viewed HIV/AIDS as an imported disease related to a corrupted lifestyle. But now the government handles it with a public health perspective," Zhang Beichuan, a medical professor with Qingdao University and a front-runner in advocating rights of people living with HIV, said.