China will close its borders to foreigners starting on Saturday, March 28, in a dramatic step to try to stop the coronavirus coming in from abroad.

It's not clear how long the closure, which affects foreigners holding valid visas and residence permits, will remain in place.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and National Immigration said in a notice posted online Thursday that diplomats, plane or vessel crews, and select others with specific types of visas would be exempted.

The notice says that foreign nationals seeking entry to China "for necessary economic, trade, scientific or technological activities or out of emergency humanitarian needs" can still apply at its embassies and consulates. It says visas issued after this announcement will still be honored.

The coronavirus was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan, but strict quarantines and limits on the flow of people helped bring the outbreak under control. The number of domestically transmitted cases had fallen to near zero.

China tightened screening and quarantining of inbound passengers in recent days, but more cases were being picked up from inbound passengers as the virus has expanded abroad.

"The suspension is a temporary measure that China is compelled to take in light of the outbreak situation and the practices of other countries," the notice said. "China will stay in close touch with all sides and properly handle personnel exchanges with the rest of the world under the special circumstances."

The government said the measures would be "calibrated in light of the evolving situation."

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