BEIJING ( Associated Press) – China announced it will resume issuing visas and passports, in another major step to contain the coronavirus that shut down the country for nearly three years, paving the way for a potential influx of millions of Chinese Kiya, who will travel abroad. Lunar New Year holiday next month.
Tuesday’s announcement follows a sudden move to lift some of the world’s toughest coronavirus measures as Xi Jinping’s government tries to address the economic crisis. Rules confining millions of people to their homes have kept China’s infection rate low, but fueled public desperation and crushed economic growth.
The latest move could send a stream of cash-rich Chinese tourists to cash-starved destinations in Asia and Europe for the Lunar New Year beginning on January 22. But it also presents the risk of spreading COVID-19 as infections rise in China.
China suspended issuing visas to foreigners and passports for its population in early 2020 at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
China’s National Immigration Administration reported that it will begin processing applications for tourists to travel abroad. Similarly, it will resume issuing authorizations for tourists and businessmen to travel to Hong Kong, a Chinese territory under its own border control.
The agency said it would review applications for ordinary visas and residence permits. It noted that the government would “gradually resume” the entry of foreign visitors and gave no indication on when large-scale tourist travel from abroad would be allowed.
Health experts and economists expect the ruling Communist Party to maintain a ban on travel to China until at least mid-2023 as it campaigns to vaccinate millions of elderly people. Experts said this is necessary to avoid a public health crisis.
During the pandemic, Chinese with family emergencies or whose business trips were deemed important were able to obtain passports, but some students and businessmen who had visas to travel abroad were unable to leave the country. A handful of foreign businessmen and others were allowed into China but were kept in quarantine for up to a week.
Before the pandemic, China was the biggest source of tourists for most of its Asian neighbors and a major market for Europe and the United States.
The government has removed or reduced most quarantines, testing and other regulations within China, joining the United States, Japan and other governments in their bid to live with the virus rather than eliminate transmission.
Japan and India responded to a surge in coronavirus cases from China by requiring virus tests for travelers arriving from the nation. US officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to comment on internal discussions, said Washington was considering similar moves.
On Monday, the government said it would remove quarantine requirements for foreign travelers, effective January 8. Foreign companies welcomed the decision, noting that it was an important step to revive business activity.
Business groups have warned that global companies are pulling out of China as foreign officials are barred from entering the nation.