28 April 2010
Beijing - China has scrapped a 20-year travel ban that barred people with HIV and Aids from entering the country, just days ahead of the opening of the Shanghai Expo, which hopes to welcome millions of overseas visitors.
The decision announced by China's Cabinet, the State Council, follows similar moves by the US and South Korea to eliminate travel restrictions for people with the HIV virus. Both lifted their bans on visitors with HIV on January 1.
China's ban had been launched based on "limited knowledge" of HIV at the time and had proven inconvenient for the country when hosting international events, the official Xinhua News Agency quoted the Cabinet as saying. The Shanghai Expo begins on Saturday and runs for six months.
The State Council said in a statement posted to its website late on Tuesday that the government had passed amendments on April 19, revising the Border Quarantine Law as well as China's Law on Control of the Entry and Exit of Aliens. The changes were effective immediately.
The move also includes scrapping entry restrictions for people with leprosy and sexually transmitted diseases.
The State Council said the government had realised that such restrictions had limited effect on preventing and controlling the spread of diseases in the country, according to Xinhua. The Cabinet did not immediately respond to faxed questions.
Aids was the top killer among infectious diseases in China for the first time in 2008, a fact that may reflect improved reporting of HIV/Aids statistics in recent years.
Despite greater openness, the government remains sensitive about the disease, regularly cracking down on activists and patients who seek more support and rights.
Government statistics show that by the end of October 2009, the number of Chinese confirmed to be living with HIV/Aids was 319 877, up from 264 302 in 2008 and 135 630 in 2005. But Health Minister Chen Zhu has said the actual level of infections is probably near 740 000.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed China's decision and urged other countries that still bar people with HIV to change their laws as soon as possible.
"Punitive policies and practices only hamper the global Aids response," he said in a statement.
Prominent Aids activist Edwin Cameron, a judge on South Africa's Constitutional Court, also welcomed the removal of the travel ban, according to a statement from a group representing United Nations staffers living with HIV.
Cameron, who has HIV, travelled to China twice in the last year and a half and met with officials about the ban.
Cameron said the visa restrictions were "illogical" and "nearly led to the cancellation of my last trip to China because of a misunderstanding between government departments".
"I am relieved this will never happen again to anyone living with HIV," he said in the statement.
Last month, China denied a visa to an HIV-positive Australian writer, Robert Dessaix, who had hoped to attend a writers' tour in the country, prompting a group of nearly 100 prominent Australian authors to sign a petition condemning Beijing and demanding that Chinese authorities apologize to Dessaix.
Authors who signed included Nobel laureate JM Coetzee and Booker Prize winner Thomas Keneally.