By Se Young Lee and Lusha Zhang
BEIJING (Reuters) – Mainland China reported its first locally transmitted coronavirus case in three days and 54 new imported cases, as Beijing ordered airlines to sharply cut international flights fearing travellers could reignite the coronavirus outbreak.
The 55 new cases reported on Thursday was down from 67 a day earlier, the National Health Commission said in a statement on Friday. There are now 81,340 confirmed cases in mainland China.
The death toll stands at 3,292 with five new deaths.
Imported coronavirus cases, mostly Chinese nationals returning home, now pose the biggest concern for authorities.
Shanghai reported the most new imported cases with 17, followed by 12 in Guangdong and four each in capital Beijing and nearby Tianjin.
Shanghai is currently treating a total of 125 patients who entered the city from overseas, including 46 arriving from Britain and 27 from the United States.
Hubei province, a region of some 60 million people where the virus first appeared late last year, reported zero new cases on Thursday – a day after lifting a lockdown and reopening its borders as the epidemic there eased.
China on Thursday ordered local airlines to maintain only one route to any country and limit flights per such routes to one per week, effective March 29. Foreign airlines have also been ordered to cut routes to China to one and limit flights to one per week, although many had already stopped flying to China.
The Civil Aviation Administration of China said in a statement issued late on Thursday that around 90% of current international flights into the country would be suspended, reducing arriving passengers to 5,000 a day, from 25,000.
China will temporarily suspend the entry of foreigners with valid Chinese visas and residence permits starting on March 28, as an interim measure, the Foreign Ministry said on Thursday.
Before the new round of restrictions were implemented, an average of around 20,000 travellers were entering China every day via international flights, about 10% of whom were foreign nationals, an official from China’s National Immigration Administration told a briefing last week.
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