The Chinese Embassy says it has not changed its visa policy towards Zimbabwean nationals who wish to travel to China despite the coronavirus outbreak in the Asian country.
To date, more than 69,000 people have been infected with the virus in China alone, where the outbreak originated. The number of people who have been confirmed to have died as a result of the virus has now reached 1,670.
Chinese ambassador to Zimbabwe Mr Guo Shaochun said there had been a decline in visa applications.
“There is no change on China’s visa policy towards Zimbabwean nationals,” said Mr Guo. “There are always Zimbabwean nationals going to China for business, school and tourism. Recently, because of the outbreak of the coronavirus, we have seen a reduced number of visa applications from Zimbabwean nationals.
“It is easy to understand because no one would want to take a risk. So, I am very sure that this is just a temporary situation and when China wins the battle against the virus we are going to see an increase of people applying for visas.”
African countries are rushing to reinforce their defences against the rapidly spreading coronavirus, as health officials say many countries on the continent are ill-equipped to combat the potentially lethal disease.
Until early this week, there were only two laboratories in Africa – one in Senegal and the other in South Africa – which had the reagents needed to test samples. They have been working as referral laboratories for countries around the region. However, Ghana, Madagascar, Nigeria and Sierra Leone have announced they can also conduct tests.
Meanwhile, it has emerged that Chinese President Xi Jinping knew of the coronavirus outbreak much earlier than previously thought. The official Communist party magazine Qiushi’s account over the weekend says that Mr Xi met the party’s politburo standing committee, China’s most powerful decision-making body, and gave instructions on the virus response on January 7 — 13 days before the public was warned about the outbreak’s severity.
Previous state media accounts appeared to date Mr Xi’s earliest direct involvement to a January 20 statement. The magazine instead said he was aware and in charge of the response to the virus almost two weeks earlier, potentially implicating Mr Xi in the bungled early response to the outbreak that contributed to its rapid spread.
*Additional reporting by Herald Zimbabwe/FT/BBC