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Russia temporarily bans most Chinese visitors amid coronavirus epidemic

Russia temporarily bans most Chinese visitors amid coronavirus epidemic
Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin signed a decree on Tuesday evening prohibiting most categories of Chinese citizens from entering Russia. The new rules are effective from Thursday.

Editorial note: This story was updated on Wednesday morning to reflect clarification that not 'all' Chinese citizens are excluded from Russia. Official Chinese reaction was also added. 

The decision is the strongest measure yet taken to prevent the entry and spread of the new coronavirus in Russia. Previously, Russian Railways suspended all passenger traffic to and from China, and flights have been heavily restricted. In addition, border crossings in the Far East have been closed.

“From 00:00 local time on February 20, 2020, the passage of citizens of the People’s Republic of China across the state border of the Russian Federation entering the territory of the Russian Federation for labor purposes, for private, educational and tourist purposes, is temporarily suspended,” read a statement issued by the government's operational headquarters headed by Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova.  

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Additionally, from Wednesday Russia will temporarily stop issuing entry invitations to Chinese citizens for private and educational visits. The processing of work permits was suspended over two weeks ago.  People wishing to travel to Russia from many countries, including the United States and European Union members, typically need an invitation before applying for a visa. 

However, transit visas will still be valid. Additionally, holders of business and humanitarian visas will be exempted. 

China has reacted calmly to the news. On Wednesday morning, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Moscow notified Beijing of its intentions before the public announcement.

"Russia emphasized that it strongly supports China in the fight against the epidemic, and also firmly believes that China will be able to win this fight," he explained. "The restrictive measures that have been taken don't mean a complete travel ban between our two countries, but are temporary initiatives that will be adjusted or even canceled as soon as the situation improves."

There are currently no reported live cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus in Russia. Two infected Chinese citizens who were quarantined in the Tyumen and Transbaikalia regions have recovered and were discharged from hospital.

One Russian man has, however, been hospitalized in Japan after becoming ill on board the cruise ship Diamond Princess, which was docked and locked down because of a virus-spreading passenger.

He and his spouse have been transferred to medical facilities, with Japanese authorities clarifying on Tuesday that only the man is currently known to be infected. 

At the time of writing over 1,800 people have died from COVID-19, with more than 72,000 infections recorded. The vast majority in China. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the epidemic a global health emergency.

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