Non-discriminatory for Chinese language vacationers

South Korea on Tuesday hit back at claims that its Covid rules were “discriminatory” towards Chinese travelers and said more than half of its imported cases originated in China.

In a response to CNBC, Seung-ho Choi, a deputy director of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency, said that up to 80% of “imported confirmed cases” in South Korea come from China.

Choi said the number of people traveling from China who tested positive for Covid-19 increased 14-fold from November to December.

Choi also said his policy “covers all Korean and non-Korean nationals coming from China. This is not just limited to Chinese. There is no discrimination based on nationality in this measure.”

Citing South Korea’s proximity to China, Choi said a surge in infections in China could put South Korea at risk.

“China’s COVID-19 situation is still worsening…which has created the possibility for new variants to be discovered,” he said.

The Omicron variant swept China in December after authorities relaxed strict contact-tracing requirements that had forced many people to stay close to their homes for almost three years. On Jan. 8, Beijing officially eased its international border controls, opening the door to more travelers entering and exiting the country.

A dangerous new Covid variant is unlikely to spread in China, said Dr. Chris Murray, Seattle-based director of a health research center at the University of Washington, told CNBC in late December.

China stops visas

More than a dozen countries have announced new rules for travelers from China. Most require travelers departing from China to have a negative Covid test before arrival – the same requirement China has for international travelers to the mainland.

But South Korea and Japan — two top destinations for Chinese travelers — said they would not increase flights in response to the reopening of the Chinese border. South Korea also announced plans to restrict short-term visas to travelers from China.

China’s embassies in South Korea and Japan announced Tuesday that they would stop issuing visas to “Korean nationals” and “Japanese citizens.”

Thai officials greet Chinese passengers at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport on Jan. 9, 2023.

Throat Sagamsak | Xinhua News Agency | Getty Images

The announcement by the Chinese embassy in Korea said the rule would apply to visas for tourism, business, medical and “general personal circumstances” and that it was acting “in accordance with Chinese domestic instructions,” according to a CNBC translation.

“China firmly opposes the discriminatory entry restriction measures aimed at China by a handful of countries and will take countermeasures,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said on Tuesday.

‘Lack of transparency’

South Korea’s Choi said policy decisions were made after “detailed discussions with relevant ministries and experts.”

Noting that the “Chinese government has stopped releasing data on daily confirmed cases,” Choi said the measures were “inevitable.”

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said at a news briefing Wednesday that the United States requires travelers from China to be tested before departure because of the “spread” and “prevalence” of infections in China, “but also due to the lack of adequate and transparent epidemiological and viral genomic sequence data reported by the PRC.”

“It is the lack of transparency that has increased our concern that a variant may emerge in the PRC and possibly spread well beyond its borders,” he said.

‘Very fair’

As a responsible member of the international community, we will share the Covid-19 data we have analyzed with the world.

Seung Ho Choi

Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency

But a Shanghai-based financial expert who asked that we call him Derek called South Korea’s restrictions “very fair.”

“None of my friends would take a flight with Covid-positive people,” he said.

Chinese citizen Cheryl Yang said for many in China, travel is the least of their worries.

“A lot of people I know have been sick [are] sick and many children are out of school,” she said. “Travel would be a secondary issue right now.”

“Only Temporarily”

Choi said South Korea’s new Covid travel restrictions are “only temporary” and are designed to “put the highest priority on the health and safety of people living in South Korea”.

The surge in Covid infections across China could mean the country can quickly overcome the outbreaks, allowing the economy to recover quickly – some say as early as the second quarter of 2023.

Read more about China’s reopening

A report by HSBC Global Research published on Jan. 5 found that China’s reopening is progressing faster than most expected that “China will emerge from Covid-19 and recover strongly from Q2 23”.

Meanwhile, Choi said, “We will make the utmost efforts to help the world overcome the pandemic.”

“As a responsible member of the international community, we will share the Covid-19 data that we analyze with the world,” he said.

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