China suspends visa issuance in Japan and South Korea in retaliation for COVID restrictions.
BEIJING, 10 January (Reuters) – On Tuesday, China suspended the issuance of short-term visas in South Korea and Japan after announcing that it would retaliate against countries that required negative COVID-19 tests from Chinese visitors.
Since Sunday, China has removed mandatory quarantines for arrivals and allowed travel across its border with Hong Kong to resume, removing the last major restrictions under the “zero-COVID” regime, which it abruptly began dismantling in early December following historic protests against the curbs.
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However, the virus is spreading uncontrollably among China’s 1.4 billion people, prompting Japan, South Korea, the United States, and other countries to require negative COVID tests from Chinese travelers.
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Although China imposes similar testing requirements for all arrivals, foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told reporters on Tuesday entry curbs for Chinese travellers were “discriminatory” and China would take “reciprocal measures”.
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The Chinese embassy in South Korea first retaliated by suspending the issuance of short-term visas to South Korean visitors. The policy would be adjusted if South Korea’s “discriminatory entry restrictions” against China were lifted, according to the embassy’s official WeChat account.
The Chinese embassy in Japan later made a similar announcement, stating that the mission and its consulates had suspended visa issuance as of Tuesday. The embassy did not specify when they would resume.
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The move came shortly after Japan tightened COVID-19 rules for travelers arriving directly from China, mandating a negative PCR test taken less than 72 hours before departure, as well as a negative test upon arrival in Japan. learn more
China has ceased publishing daily infection counts since the virus’s release. Since the policy change, it has reported five or fewer deaths per day, figures that have been challenged by the World Health Organization and are inconsistent with funeral homes reporting increased demand.
As international experts predict at least 1 million deaths in China this year, some governments have expressed concern about Beijing’s data transparency. Washington has also expressed concern about the virus’s potential future mutations.
China dismisses criticism of its data as politically motivated attempts to discredit its “success” in dealing with the pandemic, claiming that any future mutations will be more infectious but less harmful.
“China has had an open and transparent attitude since the outbreak,” Wang of the foreign ministry said.
However, as infections spread across China’s vast rural hinterland, many victims, including the elderly, are simply refusing to be tested.
The severity of the outbreak was downplayed by the state media.
Passengers push their luggage through the international arrivals hall at Beijing Capital International Airport following China’s removal of the COVID-19 quarantine requirement for inbound travelers in Beijing.
[1/2] Passengers push their luggage through the international arrivals hall at Beijing Capital International Airport on January 8, 2023, after China lifted the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) quarantine requirement for inbound travelers. Thomas Peter/Reuters
According to an article in Health Times, a publication managed by People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the ruling Communist Party, infections have been declining in the capital Beijing and several Chinese provinces.
Officials in Shenzhen, China’s southern technology powerhouse, announced on Tuesday that the city had also reached its peak.
Kan Quan, director of the Henan Provincial Epidemic Prevention and Control Office, stated that nearly 90% of the central province’s 100 million people had been infected as of Jan. 6.
The peak was reached on December 22 in the eastern province of Jiangsu, while “the first wave of infections passed smoothly” in neighboring Zheijiang province, officials said.
The latest border restrictions were viewed as merely an inconvenience by financial markets, with the yuan reaching a nearly five-month high.
Despite the fact that daily flights into and out of China remain a tenth of what they were pre-COVID, businesses across Asia, from South Korean and Japanese shop owners to Thai tour bus operators and K-pop groups, rejoiced at the prospect of more Chinese tourists.
In another sign of progress, Beijing’s Daxing International Airport, along with Beijing Capital International Airport, will resume international flights on January 17 for the first time in nearly three years.
Prior to COVID, Chinese shoppers spent $250 billion per year abroad.
The border rules were not the only source of contention in China.
Pfizer Inc (PFE.N) was chastised by state media for the price of its COVID treatment Paxlovid.
“It is no secret that US capital forces have already amassed quite a fortune from the rest of the world by selling vaccines and drugs, and the US government has been coordinating all along,” said an editorial in the nationalist tabloid Global Times.
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla stated on Monday that the company was in talks with Chinese authorities about a price for Paxlovid, but not about licensing a generic version in China.
China’s abrupt shift in COVID policies has caught many hospitals off guard, leaving smaller cities scrambling to secure basic anti-fever drugs.
Yu Weishi, chairman of Youcare Pharmaceutical Group, told Reuters that his company has increased output of anti-fever drugs fivefold in the last month to one million boxes per day.