China suspends special flights from India as Covid-19 cases rise
China on Thursday indefinitely suspended air travel from India, barring non-Chinese flyers to return to the country, following a spike in Covid-19 cases in last week’s Vande Bharat Mission (VBM).
While commercial flights between India and China have not resumed, Air India has been operating special rescue flights under the VBM mission to different cities of China.
Beijing made similar announcements to bar entry of 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 it guards itself against a resurgence in coronavirus cases rising around the world.
The new suspension order is a partial reversal of an easing on September 28, when Beijing allowed all foreigners with valid residence permits to enter.
China had banned entry of foreigners in response to the epidemic at the end of March.
For India, it means the four VBM flights scheduled every week from November 13th onwards now would have to be rescheduled.
Officials in Beijing say more than 1,500 Indians had registered to return to China; Beijing’s new announcement makes their return to China uncertain.
The Chinese 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, said at the regular ministry briefing on Thursday.
The India-specific announcement said that neither the Chinese embassy in New Delhi nor consulates in Mumbai and Kolkata would stamp on 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 Chinese government said in an announcement on Thursday.
“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,” the statement added.
The Chinese statement clarified that foreigners holding “…Chinese diplomatic, service, courtesy and C visas are not affected.”
“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 suspension is a temporary measurement 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,” the statement added.
As many as 23 Covid-19 positive Indians among them 19 asymptomatic carriers of the infection were on board a VBM flight, which landed in the central Chinese city of Wuhan from New Delhi last Friday.
The flight had registered the highest number of infected persons on an Indian rescue flight to China so far.
The large number of cases on the flight – and the high incidence of the disease in India – prompted the Chinese embassy in New Delhi to change pre-boarding Covid-19 testing rules for Indians coming to China on special flights, November 7 onwards.