MOSCOW | Tourists, students, workers: no Chinese national will be able to enter Russia from Thursday, the culmination of health measures taken against the new coronavirus, despite the economic cost for tourism and border regions.
Announced Tuesday evening by a laconic decree, this decision leads to further hardening the already very strict regime intended to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Officially, Russia has had no more patients with the new coronavirus on its territory since the discharge from hospital last week of the only two patients, Chinese nationals.
Moscow had already closed its approximately 4,250 km of borders with China, cut rail links for passenger trains and restricted the number of flights to Chinese cities.
From now on, the Chinese can only transit via Russia, a popular stopover to and from Europe. And the airline Aeroflot is the only one to serve China.
“When the situation is better, these measures will be adjusted and even withdrawn,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang, adding that “measures such as online education” will be put in place by Russia for the concerned Chinese students.
While the precise economic cost of the Russian measures is unknown, their impact is beyond doubt.
In 2019, 2.3 million Chinese citizens entered Russia, including 1.5 million tourists and more than 320,000 on business trips.
The Chinese are the first tourist group in Russia, visiting Moscow and Saint Petersburg, but also Lake Baikal and the Kamchatka peninsula (Far East).
Tourism had already been severely restricted in January by the Chinese and then Russian authorities, who de facto put an end to the travel of Chinese groups in Russia, prohibiting departure and issuance of visas. From now on, it is individual travelers who are seeing the Russian destination close.
The groups made up “about 80% of the tourist flow from China,” Irina Tiourina, of the press service of the Russian Union of the travel industry, told AFP: “In other words, the flow had dried up and now it’s frozen ”.
“Of course, the losses are colossal,” she added, stressing that they mainly concern Chinese entrepreneurs, as tourist spending in the local Russian economy is still very low.
“They eat in Chinese restaurants and are taken to shops reserved for the Chinese,” says Irina Tiourina.
However, the Russian travel industry’s losses for February and March, according to forecasts by the Association of Russian Tour Operators, amount to 2.8 billion rubles (about $ 58.1 million).
Border regions have other problems.
Due to the lack of Russian labor, there are many Chinese workers, particularly in major construction projects and the import of consumer products.
“A month or two (without Chinese workers) is possible without consequence or almost,” says Alexander Abramov, director of the Center for Economic Development and Integration of Russia in Asia-Pacific at the Federal University from the Far East, quoted by the RIA Novosti news agency.
Some observers have expressed their surprise at the firmness of Russia, where the cases have been anecdotal, the Chinese authorities also believe that the spread of the virus is being controlled.
This “draconian” measure may be due to “latent sinophobia among the Russians,” said Alexandre Gabouïev, an analyst at the Carnegie Center in Moscow, on Twitter.
“In view of the fragile economic situation, Prime Minister (Mikhaïl) Michoustine [prend des mesures] populists and emphasizes security, “he added.
“We are closely following the measures taken by Russia,” for its part reacted Chinese diplomacy on Wednesday, while stressing that “Russia has expressed its support and offered us a lot of help.”