China has stopped issuing short-term visas for visitors from South Korea and Japan, retaliating for coronavirus-related restrictions on Chinese travellers. The move came as Chinese health officials said a wave of infections had already peaked in much of the country little over a month after the zero-Covid policy was abandoned.
South Korea and Japan are among a number of countries, including the United States, that have imposed restrictions on travellers arriving from China, including a requirement for a negative PCR test before departure. South Korea has stopped issuing short-term visas to Chinese travellers until January 31st.
China’s foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin on Tuesday described Seoul’s measures as discriminatory. “We will take reciprocal measures,” he said.
The next stage is to build a scientific monitoring and early warning system for epidemic outbreaks
The Chinese embassy in Seoul said it was suspending the issuing of short-term visas until the restrictions are removed, and travel agents in Japan said China had also stopped issuing such visas to Japanese visitors.
All visitors to China must show a negative PCR test taken within 48 hours of departure, but Beijing complains that its citizens are being singled out by countries like South Korea.
“The Korean government’s strengthened prevention measures for entrants from China are based on scientific and objective grounds,” South Korean foreign ministry spokesman Lim Soo-suk said.
“The government has been transparently sharing relevant information with the international community and has continued to communicate with the Chinese side.”
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Health officials in China have suggested that the wave of infections may have peaked earlier than expected, as it sweeps from major cities into rural areas. Henan, a province where nearly half of the population lives in rural areas, said that almost 90 per cent of its inhabitants had already been infected with the coronavirus.
Kan Quancheng, director of Henan’s health commission, said the province was still dealing with severe levels of illness but the worst was behind it.
“A comprehensive study concluded that Henan province has successfully passed the peak of infections and achieved a smooth and orderly transition. The number of new infections per day is expected to remain low until the end of the month,” he said.
Sichuan, which also has a large rural population, said it passed its peak of infections last month, while Zhejiang province said it had passed the peak “smoothly”.
Beijing’s acting mayor Yin Yong said that life in the capital was returning back to normal, as the virus had reached almost the whole population, which had built resistance to it.
“The next stage is to build a scientific monitoring and early warning system for epidemic outbreaks, including sentinel sites and hospital fever clinics, to strengthen the monitoring of new variants,” he said.
Some countries that have imposed restrictions on Chinese travellers complain that Beijing has not been transparent about the extent of the current wave of infections, hospitalisations and deaths.
Chinese health officials say all variants of coronavirus found in China have already been seen elsewhere in the world, and the foreign ministry called for more transparency from Washington DC about the new XBB 1.5 variant.
“The US should take concrete and effective measures to stem the further spread of the epidemic,” Mr Wang said.