SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea says it will continue to restrict the entry of short-term travelers from China through the end of February over concerns that the spread of COVID-19 in that country may worsen following the Lunar New Year’s holidays.
South Korea in early January stopped issuing most short-term visas at its consulates in China, citing concerns about a virus surge in the country that abruptly eased coronavirus restrictions in December and the potential for new mutations.
South Korea has also required all passengers from China, Hong Kong and Macao to submit proofs of negative tests taken with 48 hours before their arrival and put them through tests again once they arrive.
The steps, which originally were imposed for the month of January, prompted China to retaliate by suspending South Korean short-term visa applications, raising concerns about disrupted business activities in a country that heavily depends on exports to China.
Following a meeting on South Korea’s COVID-19 response on Friday, health authorities decided to extend the coronavirus measures on short-term travelers from China for another month. While there had been some indications COVID-19 outbreaks in major Chinese cities were slowing, South Korean officials remain concerned about a viral resurgence following the massive gatherings and cross-country travel during the Lunar New Year’s holidays that ended this week.
South Korean officials during the meeting left open the possibility of easing the restrictions earlier if it becomes clearer that China’s COVID-19 situation is improving, the Ministry of Health and Welfare said in a statement.
When asked about concerns that China may take further retaliatory steps toward South Korea over the extension of the virus measures, Seoul’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it was closely communicating with Beijing and maintaining that all pandemic responses should be based “only on anti-virus reasons.”
According to South Korea’s Disease Control and Prevention Agency, around 10% of the 6,900 short-term travelers from China who arrived in the country from Jan. 2 to Thursday tested positive after being tested at the airport.
While allowing the extension of existing visas, South Korea has stopped issuing most short-term visas as its consulates in China, except for essential government, diplomatic and business activities and humanitarian reasons.