By Se Young Lee and Lusha Zhang
BEIJING (Reuters) – Mainland China reported its first locally transmitted coronavirus case in three days and 54 newly imported cases when Beijing ordered airlines to cut international flights sharply because they feared travelers could trigger the coronavirus outbreak again.
The 55 new cases reported on Thursday had dropped from 67 the day before, the National Health Commission said in a statement on Friday. There are now 81,340 confirmed cases in mainland China.
The death toll is 3,292 with five new deaths.
Imported coronavirus cases, mostly Chinese nationals returning home, are the government’s biggest concern today.
Shanghai reported the most newly imported cases at 17, followed by 12 in Guangdong and four each in the capital Beijing and nearby Tianjin.
Shanghai is currently treating a total of 125 overseas patients, including 46 from the UK and 27 from the United States.
The Hubei province, a region of around 60 million people where the virus first appeared at the end of last year, did not report any new cases on Thursday – a day after the blockade was lifted and the borders reopened when the epidemic hit subsided.
China ordered local airlines on Thursday to maintain only one route to one country with effect from March 29, and to limit flights per route to one per week. Foreign airlines were also instructed to reduce the routes to China to one and to limit flights to one per week. although many had already stopped flying to China.
The Chinese civil aviation authority said in a statement released late Thursday that around 90% of current international flights to the country would be suspended, reducing the number of arriving passengers from 25,000 to 5,000 a day.
China will temporarily stop the entry of foreigners with valid Chinese visas and residence permits from March 28, as a preliminary measure, the Foreign Ministry said on Thursday.
Before the introduction of the new round of restrictions, an average of around 20,000 international travelers traveled to China every day, around 10% of whom were foreigners, an official from the Chinese Immigration Service said in a briefing last week.
(Reporting by Se Young Lee, Lusha Zhang, Stella Qiu and David Stanway; editing by Tom Hogue and Michael Perry)