the main points
- China has abandoned mandatory quarantines for arrivals and allowed travel to resume across its border with Hong Kong.
- The move came shortly after Japan tightened COVID-19 rules for travelers coming directly from China.
- With the release of the virus, China stopped publishing daily infection statistics.
China has stopped issuing short-term visas in South Korea and Japan after announcing it would retaliate against countries that requested negative COVID-19 tests from Chinese travellers.
China has abandoned mandatory quarantines for arrivals and allowed travel to resume across its border with Hong Kong since Sunday, removing the last major restrictions under a “zero COVID” regime it abruptly began dismantling in early December after historic protests against the restrictions.
But the virus is spreading unchecked among 1.4 billion people and concerns about the scale and impact of the virus outbreak have prompted Japan, South Korea, the United States and other countries to request negative COVID-19 tests from travelers from China.
Although China imposes similar testing requirements on all arrivals, foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told reporters on Tuesday that entry restrictions for Chinese travelers were “discriminatory” and that China would take “reciprocal measures.”
In its first retaliatory move, the Chinese Embassy in South Korea suspended issuance of short-term visas to South Korean visitors.
On its official WeChat account, the embassy said it would adjust the policy subject to the lifting of South Korea’s “discriminatory entry restrictions” against China.
The Chinese Embassy in Japan later announced a similar move, saying the mission and its consulates had stopped issuing visas as of Tuesday.
The embassy statement did not say when it would resume.
The move came shortly after Japan tightened COVID-19 rules for travelers arriving directly from China, stipulating a negative result for a PCR test taken less than 72 hours before departure as well as a negative test upon arrival in Japan.
With the release of the virus, China stopped publishing daily infection statistics.
There have been five or fewer deaths reported per day since the policy shift, numbers that the World Health Organization has disputed and do not tally with reports of funeral providers reporting high demand.
Some governments have raised concerns about data transparency in China as international experts predict at least 1 million deaths in the country this year.
China has dismissed criticism of its data as politically motivated attempts to discredit its “success” in dealing with the epidemic and said any future mutations are likely to be more contagious but less harmful.
“Since the outbreak, China has had an open and transparent attitude,” said Wang of the Foreign Ministry.
State media downplayed the severity of the outbreak.
An article in the 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 were declining in the capital, Beijing, and several Chinese provinces.
Officials in Shenzhen, the southern tech hub, announced on Tuesday that the city had passed its peak.
Kan Quan, director of the Henan Provincial Epidemic Prevention and Control Bureau, said that nearly 90 percent of people in the central province of 100 million people had been infected as of January 6.
In the eastern province of Jiangsu, the peak was reached on December 22, while in the neighboring province of Zhejiang, “the first wave of infections passed smoothly,” officials said.
Border rules weren’t the only conflict over the novel coronavirus in China.
State media has criticized Pfizer over the price of its new coronavirus treatment, Paxlovid.
“It is no secret that US capitalist forces have already amassed great wealth from the world by selling vaccines and medicines, and that the US government has been coordinating all along,” the nationalist Global Times said in an editorial.
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said Monday that the company is in discussions with Chinese authorities about pricing Paxlovid, but not about licensing a generic version in China.
China’s sudden change of course in COVID policies left many hospitals unequipped, while small towns were left struggling to secure essential fever-fighting medicines.
Yu Weishi, president of Yucare Pharmaceutical Group, told Reuters that his company boosted its production of anti-fever medicine fivefold to 1 million boxes a day last month.