South Korea on Tuesday hit back at claims that Covid rules for Chinese travelers are “discriminatory,” saying more than half of imported cases come from China.
In a response to CNBC, Seung-ho Choi, deputy director of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency, said that up to 80% of South Korea’s “imported confirmed cases” come from China.
Choi said the number of people traveling from China who tested positive for Covid-19 rose 14 times from November to December.
Choi also said that its policies cover “all Korean and non-Korean nationals coming from China. This is not limited to only Chinese. There is no nationality discrimination in this procedure.”
Referring to South Korea’s proximity to China, Choe said the increase in infections in China could put South Korea at risk.
“The COVID-19 situation in China continues to worsen… which has created the possibility of new variants being discovered,” he said.
The omicron variant swept across China in December, after authorities relaxed strict contact tracing requirements that had forced many people to stay close to home for nearly three years. From January 8, Beijing officially relaxed its controls at international borders, opening the door to more travel in and out of the country.
It was very unlikely that a dangerous new type of Covid would spread in China, Dr. Chris Murray, director of the University of Washington Health Research Center in Seattle, told CNBC in late December.
China stops visas
More than a dozen countries have announced new rules for travelers departing from China. Most require travelers departing from China to have a negative Covid test before arrival – the same requirement that China places for international travelers to the mainland.
But South Korea and Japan – two major destinations for Chinese travellers – said they were not increasing flights in response to China’s reopening of borders. South Korea also announced plans to limit short-term visas to travelers from China.
China’s embassies in South Korea and Japan announced on Tuesday that they would stop issuing visas to “Korean nationals” and “Japanese nationals.”
Thai officials welcome Chinese passengers at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport on January 9, 2023.
Russian Sajemsak | Xinhua News Agency | Getty Images
The Chinese Embassy’s announcement in Korea said the rule would apply to visas for tourism, business, and medical reasons, and that it “follows China’s local guidelines,” according to a CNBC translation.
“China firmly opposes discriminatory entry restrictions by a handful of countries targeting China and will take reciprocal measures,” foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said on Tuesday.
‘lack of transparency’
Choi, from South Korea, said the political decisions came after “in-depth discussions with relevant government ministries and experts.”
Noting that “the Chinese government has stopped publishing data on confirmed cases daily,” Choi said the measures were “inevitable.”
US State Department spokesman Ned Price said at a press briefing on Wednesday that the United States is requiring travelers from China to take pre-departure tests due to the “prevalence” and “spread” of infections in China, but also because epidemiological sequencing data is underreported. and adequate and transparent viral from the People’s Republic of China.”
“It is the lack of transparency that has compounded our concern about the possibility of a variant emerging in the People’s Republic of China and potentially spreading beyond its borders,” he said.
However, a Shanghai-based financial professional who asked that we refer to him as Derek called South Korea’s restrictions “extremely fair.”
“None of my friends will be traveling on a flight full of people with Covid,” he said.
For many in China, travel is the least of their worries, said Chinese national Cheryl Yang.
“Many people I know have been sick or… [are] “I’m sick, and a lot of the kids are out of school. Travel will be a minor issue for now,” she said.
Choi said South Korea’s new COVID-19 travel restrictions are “only temporary” and were designed “to give the highest priority to the health and safety of people residing in South Korea.”
A resurgence of Covid infections sweeping through China could mean that the country can ride out outbreaks quickly, allowing the economy to rebound quickly — some say, as early as the second quarter of 2023.
In a sign that China’s reopening is progressing faster than expected, a report by HSBC Global Research published on January 5 said that “China will emerge from Covid-19 and rebound strongly from the second quarter of 2020.”
Meanwhile, Choi said, “We will do our best to help the world overcome the epidemic.”
“As a responsible member of the international community, we will share the Covid-19 data we are analyzing with the world,” he said.