China halts short-term visas for South Korea and Japan over Covid travel curbs | China

China halts short-term visas for South Korea and Japan over Covid travel curbs | China

China has suspended the issuance of short-term visas to South Korea and Japan after announcing it would retaliate against countries requiring negative Covid-19 tests from Chinese travelers.

China lifted mandatory quarantines on arrivals and allowed travel to resume across its border with Hong Kong from Sunday, lifting the last major restrictions under the “zero-Covid” regime that it unexpectedly began to dismantle early of December after the protests against the borders.

But the virus is spreading unchecked among its 1.4 billion people, and concerns about the scale and impact of its outbreak have led Japan, South Korea, the US and other countries to require negative tests for travelers from China.

Although China imposes similar testing requirements on all arrivals, foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said on Tuesday that entry restrictions on Chinese travelers were “discriminatory” and China would take “reciprocal measures”.

In the first retaliatory move, the Chinese embassy in South Korea suspended the issuance of short-term visas to South Korean visitors. This would regulate the policy subject to the lifting of South Korea’s “discriminatory entry restrictions” against China, the embassy said on its official WeChat account.

The Chinese embassy in Japan later announced a similar move, saying its mission and consulates had suspended issuing visas from Tuesday. The embassy statement did not say when they would resume.

The move came shortly after Japan tightened Covid rules for travelers coming directly from China, requiring a negative result of a PCR test taken less than 72 hours before departure and a negative test on arrival.

With the release of the virus, China has stopped publishing daily infection reports. It has reported five or fewer deaths a day since the policy change, figures that have been disputed by the World Health Organization and are inconsistent with funeral providers reporting rising demand.

Some governments have raised concerns about the transparency of Beijing’s data as international experts predict at least 1 million deaths in China this year. Washington has also raised concerns about possible mutations of the virus.

China dismisses criticism of its data as politically motivated efforts to tarnish its “success” in handling the pandemic and said any future mutation is likely to be more infectious but less harmful. “Since the outbreak, China has had an open and transparent attitude,” Wang said.

But as infections rise in China’s vast rural countryside, many Chinese, including the elderly, are not bothering to get tested.

State media downplayed the severity of the outbreak. An article in Health Times, a publication run by the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the ruling Communist Party, quoted several officials as saying that infections had dropped in Beijing and some Chinese provinces.

Officials in the southern tech hub of Shenzhen announced Tuesday that the city had also passed its peak.

Kan Quan, director of the Henan provincial epidemic prevention and control office, said nearly 90% of people in the central province of 100 million people had been infected as of January 6.

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