China could lift a longstanding ban on HIV-positive foreigners entering the country as early as this month, state media reported Wednesday.
Citing "insiders," the China Daily newspaper said the State Council, or Cabinet, decided on Monday it would make changes to laws barring foreign HIV carriers.
Under current regulations, those suffering from infectious diseases such as leprosy or HIV/AIDS or from mental disorders are not allowed in, the report said.
The changes could be announced before the start of Shanghai's World Expo on May 1, Hao Yang, deputy director of the health ministry's disease prevention and control bureau, was quoted as saying.
State Council officials were not immediately available for comment.
China introduced the ban in the late 1980s after reporting its first AIDS case in 1985, in a bid to limit the spread of the virus within its borders.
Authorities now estimate that up to 740,000 people in China live with HIV, while independent experts say the true number could be far higher.
"The ban imposed in the 1980s due to a lack of knowledge is obsolete and discriminatory," He Xiong, deputy director of the Beijing centre for disease prevention and control, was quoted as saying.
"As HIV/AIDS cases have been seen in all provinces in China, a travel ban on foreigners will not help local public health."
Travelling restrictions against HIV carriers, which are maintained by some 66 countries, have long been criticised as contributing to the discrimination and stigmatisation of sufferers.
According to the Global Database of HIV-related travel restrictions, China requires short-term visitors to declare their HIV status on their visa application form, while stays of six months or more require compulsory tests.
However there have been some exceptions. For major events such as the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the government has temporarily lifted the ban on HIV carriers entering the country, the report said.