South Korea said Friday it would resume issuing short-term visas to travellers from China, ending a Covid-linked restriction that sparked a furious response and tit-for-tat measures from Beijing.

In January, Seoul imposed travel requirements, including visa restrictions and PCR testing, on all visitors from China, as the world’s most-populous country battled a surge in coronavirus cases.

Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul, South Korea. Photo: 이상곤, via Wikicommons.
Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul, South Korea. Photo: 이상곤, via Wikicommons.

But South Korea said the rate of passengers from China testing positive on arrival had dropped to 1.4 percent last week, down from 20 percent when the curbs were first introduced.

As a result, Seoul will “remove short-term visa restrictions on China and resume issuing them starting from February 11”, the country’s disease control centre said in a statement.

The drop reflects the current situation in China, it said, where there have been “no signs of new coronavirus spread or mutations after the lunar new year holidays”.

Days after Seoul stopped granting the visas in January, Beijing pushed back by calling the measures “discriminatory” and suspending the issuance of short-term visas for South Koreans.

On Friday, Beijing welcomed the development, and said it would “actively consider reciprocally resuming the issuance of short term visas for South Koreans visiting China,” a foreign ministry spokeswoman said.

Beijing Daxing International Airport
Beijing Daxing International Airport. File photo: Scott Chu/Flickr.

South Korea said other restrictions, including testing requirements, would remain in place.

Travellers from China must provide a negative test before departure and undergo a PCR test within the first day of arrival.

Those testing positive are required to be quarantined for a week.

South Korea had removed pre-flight and on-arrival testing requirements for travellers from all other countries last year.

Seoul recently dropped rules requiring people to wear masks in most indoor spaces, ending one of the country’s last major pandemic restrictions as Covid-19 cases dwindle.

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