China halts short-term visas in South Korea, first response to COVID curbs

The Chinese embassy in South Korea has suspended issuing short-term visas for South Korean visitors.

The Chinese embassy in South Korea has suspended issuing short-term visas for South Korean visitors, it said on Tuesday, the first retaliatory move against nations imposing COVID-19 curbs on travellers from China.

The embassy will adjust the policy subject to the lifting of South Korea's "discriminatory entry restrictions" against China, it said on its official WeChat account.

A Chinese embassy official confirmed the new measure.

The announcement comes a day after Foreign Minister Qin Gang expressed concern about the restrictions in a telephone call with his South Korean counterpart Park Jin, according to China's foreign ministry.

"Our government's enhanced quarantine measures on travellers from China are based on scientific and objective evidence," ministry spokesperson Lim Soo-suk told a regular briefing following the announcement.

South Korea began requiring travelers from China to undergo a PCR test upon arrival from last week, joining a growing list of countries imposing border restrictions amid concern over infections in China.

Effective Thursday, arrivals are also required to provide a negative PCR result, taken within 48 hours of the beginning of the journey to South Korea, or a rapid antigen test taken within 24 hours, while short-term visa issuance has been suspended for Chinese nationals until the end of the month.

On Thursday, South Korean police tracked down a Chinese man who went missing while awaiting quarantine after having tested positive for COVID-19 upon arrival.

South Korea's President Yoon Suk-yeol has said the country's quarantine and border measures should focus strictly on the safety of its citizens without political considerations.

"No country in the world considers quarantine and border control issues to be a diplomatic, political, economic or trade issue," he told a meeting with health officials on Monday.

"So any developed country in the world would do that. That's science, and we should only care about the safety and health of the people."

Some Chinese visitors expressed frustration at the curbs.

A tour worker, who gave only her last name, Chen, for reasons of privacy, said her first overseas trip in three years foundered when she arrived in South Korea on Friday and tested positive, contradicting the result she got before departure.

"I was shocked," Chen told Reuters from hotel quarantine. "I was doubtful," she added, as she had just recovered from COVID infection last month. "But they don't provide any answers and won't give you a chance to verify."

Chen said she did not find the measures "convincing" as the other passengers on her airplane, mostly South Koreans had been allowed to go home.

"If this is a method to prevent the spread of the virus, I can't make sense of it."

Arriving South Korean citizens and long-term visa holders must undergo a PCR test at a community clinic or hospital within 24 hours and submit the result online, with those testing positive required to quarantine.

Short-term travellers from China must get a PCR test upon arrival, with those testing positive sent to a designated facility for quarantine of seven days.

The latest tension dampened share prices of South Korean companies with heavy exposure to business with China, sending cosmetics makers and Amorepacific down by more than 2 percent each in late afternoon trade after early gains.

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