Australia should ease travel ban on foreigners from China: ambassador

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia should lift its ban on the arrival of foreign nationals from mainland China, China’s ambassador to Australia said on Monday.

Australia has since Feb. 1 prevented anyone but citizens and permanent residents from entering the country directly from mainland China, citing a need to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The number of cases in Australia have held steady at 15, China’s Ambassador to Australia said, and the restrictions should be eased when Canberra next reviews the policy before Feb 22.

“We have expressed our strong wish and hope that the Australian government in their review will take a balanced approach and remove those harsh restrictions. At the very least they should relax them,” Cheng Jingye told Sky News Australia. “It is inconsistent with the recommendations of the (World Health Organisation).

The number of reported new infections in China’s Hubei province rose on Monday after two days of declines, as authorities imposed tough new restrictions on movement to prevent the spread of the disease, dubbed SARS-CoV-2, which has killed more than 1,700 people.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said Canberra would be guided by advice from medical experts, despite growing pressure on the Australian economy.

China is Australia’s largest trading partner, sending more than 1 million tourists and students there each year.

Australia’s top central banker this month said the epidemic could shave 0.2 percentage points off Australia’s economic growth in the first quarter of this year.

Meanwhile, Morrison said more than 200 Australians quarantined at an immigration detention center in the Indian Ocean territory of Christmas Island for two weeks would depart on Monday.

“Having to go into a quarantine period for 14 days is an inconvenience. But they understood why. They took that in good faith and I’m sure they’re looking forward to coming home,” Morrison told reporters in Melbourne.

Morrison said the detention center would not be ready to house anyone repatriated from the Diamond Princess cruise liner, docked in Yokohama, Japan.

He said he would meet with his national security committee to discuss an alternative plan for nearly 200 Australians on the cruise ship.

Reporting by Colin Packham. Editing by Gerry Doyle

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