SEOUL, Jan. 10 (UPI) — China has stopped issuing short-term entry visas to South Korean nationals, it announced on Tuesday, in retaliation against Seoul’s heightened COVID-19 testing requirements for Chinese travelers.
The Chinese Embassy in South Korea made the announcement on the WeChat messaging platform, citing instructions from Beijing.
The suspension will be adjusted when South Korea “cancels its discriminatory entry restrictions against China,” the post said.
Chinese state media on Tuesday confirmed the policy, which is Beijing’s first retaliatory measure against countries that have imposed new travel regulations on its citizens.
South Korea has paused issuing short-term visas to Chinese nationals until the end of this month and is requiring a polymerase chain reaction COVID-19 test on arrival from China.
Those moves came in response to an outbreak of the virus in China following Beijing’s sudden reversal of its draconian “zero-COVID” policy after public protests shook the country in December. China opened its borders on Sunday, ending quarantine requirements for inbound travelers after three years.
Prior to Beijing’s announcement, Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang “expressed concern” over the entry restrictions during a call with his South Korean counterpart on Monday, according to a readout from the Chinese foreign ministry.
COVID-19 cases and deaths surged after Beijing lifted its harsh controls, which had contained the spread of the virus through widespread lockdowns, travel bans and other measures that exacted a heavy economic and social toll.
Chinese health officials reported just 5,272 deaths overall as of Sunday, one of the lowest rates in the world, but the World Health Organization has criticized China’s “very narrow” definition of COVID fatalities and says Beijing is “under-representing” the severity of its outbreak.
“We continue to ask China for more rapid, regular, reliable data on hospitalizations and deaths, as well as more comprehensive, real-time viral sequencing,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a media briefing last week.
South Korean Foreign Minister Park said that Seoul’s entry policy for Chinese travelers “has been implemented in accordance with scientific evidence,” according to his office.
Several other countries, including the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, Japan, India and Italy, imposed testing requirements and other restrictions on travelers from China in response to the country’s COVID-19 surge.