China restricts overseas travel to curb COVID-19 outbreak
China on Wednesday tightened overseas travel restrictions for its citizens as part of efforts to contain rising coronavirus cases after reporting its highest number of infections in months.
The movement of people is coming under more restriction inside China, with localized transport closures and stay-at-home orders in places in some cities, and beyond China's borders.
The latest outbreak began when an infection among passengers on a flight from Moscow spread to airport cleaners in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province.
China's immigration authority on Wednesday announced it would stop issuing ordinary passports and other documents needed for exiting the country in "non-essential and non-emergency" cases.
That does not yet mean a blanket overseas travel ban for the Chinese public.
Immigration official Liu Haitao told a press briefing that those who "have real needs for studying abroad, employment and business" will still have their documents issued upon verification.
Foreign crews on hundreds of ships have been stopped from disembarking and changing shifts at Chinese ports.
The central government has also ordered localities to cut off public transport and taxis in and out of areas hit by the outbreak, the transport ministry said.
Local governments have tested entire cities and locked down millions, with the official figures on Wednesday revealing 71 new infections on the previous day – the most since January 30.
China had largely managed to keep infections imported from abroad from sparking major local outbreaks. Since late July, however, the highly transmissible Delta variant has been detected in more than a dozen Chinese cities, including the capital.
China has reported 485 locally transmitted cases with symptoms between July 20 and August 3, although it's not immediately clear how many involve the Delta variant.
A total of 17 provincial regions in China have reported locally transmitted or asymptomatic COVID-19 cases as of early Wednesday, according to Mi Feng, spokesman at the National Health Commission.
"At present, the global epidemic is rapidly intensifying and the risk of imported infections is increasing," Mi said. "Recently, imported-related cases have been detected at many airports, ports and hospitals, resulting in a spread (of infections) of a certain scale," he told reporters.
China now has 144 areas deemed to be high or medium-risk, the most since the peak of the epidemic in the spring of 2020. Authorities have canceled trains to Beijing from riskier areas, with high-risk areas subject to the toughest containment measures.