China is relaxing some of its pandemic travel restrictions again. On Wednesday, the mainland will begin issuing a range of visas to foreign nationals, according to the country’s foreign ministry. The move inches China closer to full reopening, marking a departure from the zero-Covid strategy they had held tightly to up until a few months ago.
A social media account affiliated with the foreign ministry’s consular affairs bureau broke the good news, explaining that new visa applications would be processed and old ones would be honoured. Several overseas Chinese missions, including its embassies in the US and France, followed suit and reposted similar updates on their sites.
The updated visa policy will see new visas reviewed and approved, while visas that are still valid and that were issued before March 28, 2020, will once again be accepted and allow entry into China.
The new policy will also permit visa-free travel to resume for those arriving on cruise ships to Shanghai, as well as for certain tourist groups from Hong Kong, Macau and countries within the ASEAN regional grouping.
Before the onset of Covid-19, China had a healthy tourism industry, with 2019 seeing 65.7 million international travellers. But when the pandemic hit, China took an extreme tack, sealing itself off from the rest of the world in an attempt to keep the rampant spread of Covid out. This loosening of restrictions is a significant step in allowing both international travellers and Chinese citizens to move in and out of the country.
China only began easing its strict pandemic containment strategy late last year. People’s frustration with Covid restrictions ballooned into resentment of the government and even calls for President Xi Jinping to resign. Demonstrations broke out in November, a rare sight under an oppressive Chinese government, and many saw it as the strongest rebuke of the Communist rulers since the iconic Tiananmen Square riots in 1989.
Finally bowing to pressure, long quarantines, lockdowns and mass testing were eased just at the end of last year, in early December. But that relaxing of containment backfired as Covid infections spiralled across the country.
This created a global strain as China announced to end of quarantine for inbound passengers on January 8, the first step in China’s reopening. The move resumed the issuing of Chinese passports for “tourism” or “overseas visits of friends” and meant the large tourism demographic could begin to rebuild. But many countries were worried about an influx of travellers from a country experiencing a massive Covid outbreak.
Now, infections are easing in China and countries like Japan and South Korea have eased restrictions on Chinese visitors. China relaxed their reciprocal restrictions as well. And now on Wednesday, the gates may be opening wider still for tourism in and out of China.
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