China Is Set To Resume Issuing Visas As It Emerges From Covid Zero
China will resume the issuance of all types of visas for foreigners starting March 15, the embassy in the US said, another step in the country’s emergence from strict “Covid Zero” controls.
(Bloomberg) -- China will resume issuing visas to tourists and other foreigners, a significant step in the country’s move to rejoin the world and leave its stringent Covid restrictions behind.
The shift comes into force from Wednesday, China’s embassy in the US said in a statement. It will also see visa-free entry into Guangdong province resumed for foreigners in groups from Hong Kong and Macau, and for those on cruise ships stopping in Shanghai.
Reopening to tourists is a highly symbolic sign China is leaving its absolutist Covid Zero regime behind. The strategy, which involved frequent lockdowns, mass testing and an effectively closed border weighed on economic growth, particularly last year. It was abruptly scrapped in early December, after protests across multiple Chinese cities and as the economic hit worsened.
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China ended mandatory quarantine for inbound travelers on Jan. 8, the first major step toward reopening its once-busy borders after nearly three years of closures aimed at keeping the virus out.
Since abandoning Covid Zero, the Communist Party has been prioritizing a return to strong growth, with China’s new Premier Li Qiang calling for more effort to meet a 5% expansion target for 2023 at a meeting of the national legislature this week.
Only 115.7 million inbound and outbound trips were made in 2022 — less than a fifth of those flown in 2019 before the pandemic took hold, according to data from China’s Ministry of Public Security. Mainland residents made 64.6 million trips last year, also about a fifth of pre-Covid levels.
Travelers from China were among the biggest spenders globally pre-pandemic, and their absence hammered tourism-reliant nations from Southeast Asia to Europe.
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Chinese airlines have been ramping up to meet demand since quarantine was eased, adding international routes after the government allowed the resumption of overseas group trips. This year’s number of international flights will be 50%-60% of the level seen just before the pandemic then exceed that mark in 2024, the China Securities Journal reported, citing an estimate from Citic Securities.
Still, flights each way between the US and China remain capped at 12 a week, a relic of the Covid-era rules. Both governments have to agree to lift the ceiling, put in place amid a disagreement over virus testing protocols.
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China has been steadily normalizing its border regime since the move in January.
Authorities loosened Covid test requirements for travelers from a handful of countries including New Zealand, Russia and Malaysia from March. Travelers now only need to provide negative rapid antigen test results before being allowed to board flights to China, and carriers aren’t required to check test results prior to boarding.
China still requires a swathe of countries, including the US, provide negative PCR tests before boarding flights. The US lifted a similar rule for travelers from the country last week, raising prospects China will soon reciprocate.
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--With assistance from .
(Updates throughout with the shift including tourist visas.)
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