On Wednesday, Chinese state media defended the retaliatory actions taken against South Korea and Japan as “reasonable” in response to their COVID-19 travel restrictions, while Chinese tourists criticized Seoul’s “insulting” treatment on social media.
After three years of isolation under the strictest COVID restrictions in the world, which Beijing abruptly started dismantling in early December in response to historic protests, China reopened its borders on Sunday.
Some foreign governments have expressed concern about the scope and impact of the outbreak as the virus continues to spread unchecked among China’s 1.4 billion people as a result of the policy U-turn; the World Health Organization has stated that deaths are underreported.
In a first, China’s health authorities did not report COVID fatalities data on Tuesday despite consistently reporting five or fewer deaths per day over the previous month, numbers that are at odds with the long lines seen at funeral homes.
Requests for comment from China’s National Health Commission and Center for Disease Control and Prevention were not immediately fulfilled.
At the beginning of the year, more than a dozen nations, including the United States, Australia, and some members of the European Union, imposed requirements for pre-departure negative test results from visitors from China.
Among them, South Korea and Japan have also restricted air travel and mandated arrival tests, with passengers who tested positive being quarantined. Quarantine in South Korea is at the expense of the traveler.
The foreign ministry blasted the testing requirements as “discriminatory,” prompting the Chinese embassies in Seoul and Tokyo to announce on Tuesday that they had suspended issuing short-term visas for visitors to China.
All foreign visitors must have negative test results in order to enter China.
Beijing’s retaliation was justified, according to state-run nationalist tabloid Global Times, as a “direct and reasonable response to protect its own legitimate interests, particularly after some countries are continuing to hype up China’s epidemic situation by putting travel restrictions for political manipulation.”
According to South Korea’s Foreign Minister Park Jin, Beijing’s countermeasures were “deeply regrettable” and that Seoul’s decision was supported by scientific evidence.
Japan complained to China about its actions.
South Korea, whose border controls are the strictest among the nations that announced new rules, was the main target of Chinese social media rage.
Videos that have been circulating online show the airport’s special lanes for Chinese arrivals, which are directed by uniformed soldiers. Travelers are given yellow lanyards with QR codes to process test results.
Chinese tourists being singled out was compared by one Weibo user to “people treated like criminals and paraded on the streets” and was “insulting.”
South Korea was the subject of a separate article in Global Times, which claimed that the actions had led Chinese citizens to believe that Seoul was staging a “political show.”
Before the pandemic, Chinese travelers spent $250 billion annually abroad, with South Korea and Japan ranking among the top shopping destinations.
The second-largest economy in the world has been severely impacted by China’s repeated lockdowns over the past year. China’s growth in 2022, according to the World Bank, will slow to 2.7%, the second-lowest rate since the middle of the 1970s, after 2020.
Due to the severity of the COVID disruptions and the declining external demand, it predicted a rebound to 4.3% in 2023, which is 0.9 percentage points less than the June forecast.
Due to severe antiviral shortages in the nation, many Chinese who lost their livelihoods during last year’s lockdowns are now investing sizable sums of money in what local media has described as an emerging black market for COVID medications.
China is working to increase the number of medications it has available to treat COVID, including Pfizer’s Paxlovid (PFE.N) and Merck’s (MRK.N) molnupiravir.
Sinopharm (1099.HK) of China is authorized to import and sell the drug under a contract with Merck. According to local media, the Chinese company claimed that the medication might be available for purchase before the Lunar New Year.
Chinese media reported that scammers charge up to 50,000 yuan ($7,389.24) for a box of Paxlovid, more than 20 times the drug’s original cost.
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla stated on Monday that the company was in discussions with Chinese authorities regarding Paxlovid’s price but not regarding the licensing of a generic version in China.
As a result of the abrupt collapse of China’s “zero COVID” regime, hospitals and cemeteries nationwide are at capacity.
China has reported slightly more than 5,000 COVID-related deaths since the pandemic started, which is less than what much less populated countries have reported as they reopened, despite the fact that international health experts have predicted at least one million COVID-related deaths this year.
China claims to have been open about its data.
In the provinces of Henan, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Guangdong, Sichuan, and Hainan as well as the massive cities of Beijing and Chongqing, which together are home to more than 500 million people, the COVID wave, according to state media, has already passed its peak.