Earlier, India had suspended flights with China in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak but Chinese nationals continued to travel to India on specific types of visas, excluding tourist visas, via countries that have ‘air bubble’ arrangements with India.
Also, Chinese nationals residing in countries that India has 'air bubble' agreements with had the option to fly into India if they carried permissible types of visas.
While all scheduled international passenger flights have been suspended in India since March 23 due to the coronavirus pandemic, special flights have been operating under the Vande Bharat mission since May and under air bubble arrangements since July.
India has formed air bubble arrangements with more than 22 countries.
Under an air bubble agreement between two nations, airlines of both the countries can operate special flights between their territories with certain restrictions.
But from November onwards, China restricted the entry of Indian fliers into China. A November 5 statement issued by the Chinese embassy in India said, "Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s hereby announced that China has decided to temporarily suspend the entry into China by foreign nationals in India holding valid Chinese visas or residence permits. The Chinese Embassy/ Consulates in India will not stamp the Health Declaration Forms for the holders of the above-mentioned categories of visa or residence permits."
Another factor fueling the media reports is the Centre's move is a retaliation for 39 Indian seafarers on two cargo vessels – MV Jag Anand and MV Anastasia – being stranded in waters off the Chinese ports in of Hebei for months. The ships have not been allowed to discharge their cargo; and the crew have not been allowed to disembark, impacting their mental and physical health, according to reports. India’s external affairs ministry has questioned the Chinese authorities’ decision to not allow the ships to leave the ports.
Addressing the media on 24 December, Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said, "Bulk cargo vessel MV Jag Anand is on anchorage near Jingtang port in Hebei province of China since June 13 and has 23 Indian sailors. Another vessel, MV Anastasia with 16 Indian nationals as its crew, is on anchorage near Caofeidian port in China since September 20."
“There is a considerable amount of stress on the crew members on account of this unprecedented situation. Our Embassy in Beijing has been in constant touch with provincial and central government authorities in China, requesting that the ships be allowed to dock and/or the crew be allowed to be changed," Srivastava said.
While China has been citing Covid-19 restrictions as the reason, many believe it is a fallout of China's ongoing trade war with Australia, as many of these ships are believed to be carrying Australian coal that China has banned.
Meanwhile, mainland China reported 21 new COVID-19 cases on Dec. 27, down from 22 cases a day earlier, the country's national health authority said on Monday.
The National Health Commission, in a statement, said 15 of the new cases were imported infections originating from overseas.
Six local transmission were all in Liaoning province.
The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, rose to 20 from 15 cases a day earlier.
Separately, Beijing has tightened COVID-19 curbs over concerns that China's mass travel during the holiday period could cause a spike in cases in the capital, as it had reported locally transmitted cases for a fourth straight day on Sunday.
The total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Mainland China now stands at 86,976, while the death toll remained unchanged at 4,634.