South Korea has decided to resume issuing short-term visas to travellers from China after noting the improved COVID-19 situation in China. Following an anti-virus meeting on Friday, the government decided to normalize short-term visa applications at its consulates in China from Saturday. Testing requirements were maintained but officials said that those steps could later be relaxed depending on the developments of the virus.
The move marks the end of a long COVID related restriction that had sparked tensions with Beijing. (Also Read | South Korea struggles to serve up national dish ‘kimchi’)
Seoul and Beijing at loggerheads
In December, China abruptly ended its stringent “zero-COVID” policy, leading to a wave of infections. This raised the prospect of millions of Chinese travellers making their way abroad for the first time in three years.
In January, while China battled a surge of COVID infection cases, Seoul stopped issuing most short-term visas. Beijing called the move “discriminatory” and retaliated by halting short-term visas for South Korean travellers.
This raised business concerns as South Korea depends heavily on exports to China.
Seoul defended their curbs saying that the spread of the virus in China was creating concern aver the possible emergence of new variants.
It also accused the Chinese authorities of not being transparent with their COVID data.
A noted drop in infection rate
South Korea’s Vice Interior Minister Kim Sung-ho, who is in charge of disaster and safety management, said the move to lift restrictions came after the number of infections among Chinese arrivals dropped significantly.
When the curbs were first introduced in January, 20% of Chinese travellers to South Korea had tested positive.
Last week only 1.4% of Chinese travellers tested positive on arrival.
Other restrictions, including testing requirements continue to remain in place.
Travelers from China have to produce a negative test before departure and undergo a PCR test upon arrival in South Korea.
Those who test positive are to stay quarantined for a week.