Russia to let in Chinese with business visas amid entry ban

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A family talk with journalists while waiting to leave the sanatorium after their quarantine period has ended in Bogandinsky in the Tyumen region, about 2150 kilometers (1344 miles) east of Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020. On Wednesday, 144 people who were evacuated from the epicenter of the CONVID-19 coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China, were released from a 14-day quarantine in western Siberia. None of them tested positive for the virus. (AP Photo/Maxim Slutsky)

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MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s entry ban for Chinese nationals will be partial and only affect those who travel with tourist, private, student and work visas, the country’s Foreign Ministry said Wednesday, clarifying the conditions of a sweeping entry ban for Chinese citizens announced the day before.

Visitors with official, business, humanitarian and transit visas will still be allowed into the country, the Ministry said.

The ban goes into effect on Thursday at midnight Moscow time (2100 GMT). It was announced by the Russian government on Tuesday amid the new coronavirus outbreak centered in China that has infected more than 75,000people worldwide.

The measure is one of many Russia has taken to keep the virus from spreading. The country so far has reported three confirmed cases of the COVID-19 disease — two Chinese citizens in Russia who were treated and released, and a Russian national infected on the Diamond Princess cruise ship.

Russia suspended all trains to China and North Korea, shut down its land border with China and Mongolia and extended a school vacation for Chinese students until March 1. Hundreds of Russians who returned from China this year have been hospitalized as a precaution, and medics continue to monitor more than 14,000 people in total.

However, while some of these steps at first appeared sweeping, they turned out to have loopholes and caveats that allowed Russia to maintain its political and economic ties with China. Those ties became increasingly important for Moscow after its relations with the West soured over Russian’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and other disputes.

Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova argued that the entry ban was necessary because Russia lacks enough facilities to hospitalize all Chinese travelers who may have the virus.

“Ensuring quarantine conditions with permanent monitoring for thousands of travelers from China is unfeasible,” Golikova said.

As described Wednesday, this week’s partial entry ban would minimize the effect on business connections between China and Russia and on the operation of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport, a major transit hub for Chinese tourists traveling to Europe.

In the same vein, the Russian government last month halted most air traffic to China, with exceptions for four Chinese airlines and flagship Russian carrier Aeroflot. Currently, there are still regular flights to Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong.

China has remained a top trading partner for Russia for the last decade, so cutting the ties completely is hardly an option, Alexander Gabuyev, chair of the Russia in the Asia-Pacific Program at the Carnegie Moscow Center, said.

“This contradiction between the need to… control the spread of disease and at the same time to maintain good economic ties with China is dictating this two steps forward, one step back policy,” Gabuyev said.

Visitors coming to Russia for business or humanitarian purposes account for 10% of all Chinese travelers, according to Gabuyev. Last year, 1.5 million Chinese tourists traveled to Russia.

However, Russia’s tourism industry is about to suffer a significant blow with the flow of Chinese visitors effectively cut off during the entry ban. Because of all the restrictions, tour operators working with Chinese travelers could lose up to $47 million of profits in the coming months, Maya Lomidze, head of the Association of Tour Operators of Russia, said Wednesday.

“The forecast is pessimistic at this point,” Lomidze said. “It would be good to have an understanding of how the situation in China will unfold and how long the travel ban for Chinese nationals will last.”

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See more AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak

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