Foreign ministry stops issuing China tourism visas

Foreign minister Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa).
Foreign minister Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa). Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Estonia has stopped issuing tourist visas to Chinese nationals in the wake of the novel coronavirus outbreak, also known as the Wuhan coronavirus. The embassy is also evacuating diplomats' families from the country, and reducing its foreign mission functions in Beijing.

"We have made the decision to return diplomats' family members in Beijing to Estonia," foreign minister Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) told ERR Tuesday afternoon.

"We are also reducing those aspects of the embassy's functions which do not provide consular assistance to Estonian nationals," he added, noting that the embassy would still otherwise continue work.

No tourist visas to Estonia are currently being processed in Beijing either, Reinsalu said, with that information being passed on to relevant companies in Estonia.

"We have also forwarded a warning to Estonian tourism firms," Reinsalu said, noting that China itself is not permitting tourist groups.

Sole Estonian in Hubei province now in quarantine in France

The sole Estonian resident in Hubei province in central China, the epicenter of the outbreak (Wuhan is the capital of Hubei province), has been removed from the country by a French-led initiative, and is currently in quarantine in France, Reinsalu added.

"France launched a civil protection mechanism for EU citizens last week and a return operation from the province for EU citizens. Two flights were organized - the first on January 31 and the second on February 1.

The second flight brought 199 people from 17 EU countries, including, to our knowledge, the only citizen of the Republic of Estonia, who was in quarantine in that province," Reinsalu said.

"This citizen has been happily taken to France, is going through a corresponding 14-day quarantine, and then will be fine with them," he added.

Reinsalu noted that according to his ministry, 19 Estonian citizens are in China on a short-term basis, and 78 are resident on a permanent basis.

 "Everyone the ministry has been able to contact has been informed that China may impose additional travel and movement restrictions, including quarantine on entering and leaving the country. China has not made that decision as yet, [but] we are asking people to seriously consider whether they can justify remaining in the country," he said.

The ministry has called for all Estonian citizens there to register on its website so they can be kept up to date with information and contacted if additional assistance is required.

The ministry recommends avoiding travel to China as a result of the spread of the coronavirus, the ensuing, rapidly changing situation, and a resulting sharp decline in mobility and accommodation options, ERR's online news in Estonian reports.

"We strongly advise people avoid traveling to Hubei province. Estonian citizens in China are advised to consider the feasibility of remaining in the country," the ministry's website stated (link in Estonian).

As of 4 February 2020, approximately 20,673 cases of the novel coronavirus (designated 2019-nCoV) have been confirmed, with 427 confirmed deaths.

Coronaviruses are primarily spread by close contact, in particular via coughs and sneezes within a range of about two meters.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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