Morocco becomes first country to ban China arrivals as concerns grow over Covid-19 surge

Morocco becomes first country to ban China arrivals as concerns grow over Covid-19 surge

Morocco has banned all arrivals from China, becoming the first African country to introduce restrictions amid growing alarm over a Covid-19 surge in the aftermath of Beijing's abrupt relaxation of pandemic measures.

The decision comes close on the heels of Canada and Australia mandating preflight Covid-19 tests for travellers from China, including Hong Kong and Macau.

The United States, Britain, Israel, Spain, France, Japan, South Korea and India had already taken similar measures.

But Morocco is the first nation to impose an outright ban.

Anyone arriving from China would be denied entry from January 3, the Moroccan foreign ministry said on Sunday.

"In light of the evolution of the health situation related to Covid-19 in China … and in order to avoid a new wave of contaminations in Morocco and all its consequences … access to the territory of the Kingdom of Morocco [will be prohibited] to all travellers coming from the People's Republic of China, regardless of their nationality," a statement from the ministry in Rabat said.

WHO wants more information from China on Covid infections

The latest measures "do not in any way affect the strong friendship between the two peoples, and the strategic partnership between the two countries", it added.

Nearly 200,000 Chinese tourists visited the North African country in 2018, and it aimed to attract 500,000 Chinese travellers every year, the Moroccan government said in late 2019, shortly before the pandemic hit.

Early last month, China dismantled its strict zero-Covid strategy of mass testing, lockdowns and border controls that had been in place since the early days of the pandemic three years ago.

All border controls would be lifted on January 8, Beijing announced last week, with international arrivals no longer required to undergo quarantine and mainland residents once again allowed to apply for passports.

But the abrupt abandonment of the zero-Covid policy has given rise to grave concerns over the emergence of new coronavirus variants as infection rates explode across the country.

Both Canada and Australia will require preflight negative Covid-19 test results for passengers from mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau as a "temporary" measure starting January 5.

In a statement on Saturday, Canadian Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said the restrictions were "necessary" to keep Canada safe in the face of the pandemic.

Places with Covid rules for China travellers

Travellers would also be asked if they had been to mainland China, Hong Kong or Macau in the previous 10 days.

The rules, which cover passengers aged two and over, would apply regardless of nationality or vaccination status, Duclos said.

Australian Health Minister Mark Butler said the decision to introduce pre-departure Covid-19 tests stemmed from an "abundance of caution" in response to the significant wave of infections in China.

Authorities had taken into account "the dynamic and evolving situation in China and the potential for new variants to emerge in an environment of high transmission", Butler said in a statement on Sunday.

China has been battling a tsunami of Covid-19 infections that has overwhelmed its hospitals and mortuaries, and sparked social media complaints of a severe shortage of Covid-related drugs.

Chinese President Xi Jinping sought to strike an upbeat note in his televised New Year's address on Saturday, assuring the nation that the "light of hope" in the pandemic battle was right in front, as he called for unity and perseverance in this "new stage" of pandemic control.

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