China halts short-term visas for South Korea and Japan as Covid wave ‘peaks’ in many places

China stopped issuing short-term visas to South Korean and Japanese nationals on Tuesday in a tit-for-tat move against Covid restrictions on its travellers.

The policy will be adjusted by China based on whether South Korea lifts “discriminatory entry restrictions”, the country’s embassy in Seoul said on its official WeChat account.

China has imposed similar measures for Japan, reported its media on Tuesday, despite the country allowing Chinese travellers once they present a negative Covid test.

Responding to China’s latest move, South Korea’s foreign ministry doubled down on its border restrictions and said on Tuesday that they were “based on science and objective”.

South Korea is communicating with China on the issue through diplomatic channels, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said.

“We do not believe the entry restriction measures some countries have taken against China are science-based,” the spokesperson had said last week.

China has called travel restrictions disproportionate and unscientific after dozens of countries swiftly imposed them on travellers from the Asian country.

“Some of these measures are disproportionate and simply unacceptable. We firmly reject using Covid measures for political purposes and will take corresponding measures in response to varying situations via the principle of reciprocity,” the spokesperson said at a press briefing last week.

On Monday, the Chinese foreign minister raised concerns about the restrictions with his South Korean counterpart Park Jin.

However, the South Korean minister informed the Chinese minister that the new border restrictions were “science-based measures”.

The stand was reiterated by South Korean president Yoon Suk-yeol who defended the border controls and called for the restrictions to focus on the safety of the country’s citizens.

The controls were imposed after a Chinese man went missing in the country during his quarantine period after he tested positive for Covid upon arrival.

China’s neighbouring countries have put their guards up as the country grapples with the virus spread inside the mainland after Xi Jinping’s administration abruptly dropped harsh zero-Covid restrictions last month.

International estimates claim millions have been infected in the span of a month, while Chinese officials said the outbreak has peaked in several parts of the country.

China’s national health commission has stopped publishing daily infection tallies and is reporting five or fewer deaths a day since the policy U-turn.

The data has been dubbed inaccurate by experts monitoring the outbreak, while the World Health Organisation has blamed Chinese authorities for not showing the “true impact” of Covid by underreporting hospitalisations and deaths.

Chinese state media on Tuesday said many parts of the country have already witnessed a peak in infections in what is being perceived as downplaying the actual impact of the outbreak.

According to the Communist Party’s official news publication, infections are on the downward trend in national capital Beijing and several other Chinese provinces.

It further claimed nearly all the 100 million people in China’s third most populous province Henan had already been infected, citing an official.

Accounts from several funeral homes and hospitals said they are overwhelmed four to five times more than they usually are.

At least 1 million Covid-related deaths have been predicted in China this year, according to international experts monitoring the situation.