China is preparing to issue ordinary passports and visas in a big step from the COVID measures that isolated the country for nearly three years – as Hong Kong announced that people who tested positive for the coronavirus will no longer have to quarantine.
Beijing’s announcement means millions of Chinese could travel abroad for the Lunar New Year holiday next month.
This presents the danger that they could spread the coronavirus as infections rise in the country.
The rollback of some of the world’s toughest virus checks comes as President Xi Jinping’s government attempts to reverse an economic crisis.
The rules that have confined millions to their homes have kept China’s infection rate low, but have fueled public frustration and crushed economic growth.
China stopped issuing visas to foreigners and passports to its own people at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020.
The China National Immigration Administration has announced that it will start accepting passport applications for tourists from January 8.
He also said he would resume allowing tourists and business people to visit Hong Kong, a Chinese territory with its own border controls.
The agency said it would accept applications for ordinary visas and residence permits.
He said the government would “gradually resume” allowing foreign visitors, but gave no indication of when large-scale tourist travel from abroad might be allowed.
Health experts and economists had expected the ruling Communist Party to maintain restrictions on travel to China until at least mid-2023 while it waged a campaign to vaccinate millions of elderly people. .
Experts say it’s necessary to prevent a public health crisis.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong is removing all social distancing measures except for the mandatory mask rule.
Hong Kong chief executive John Lee also said close contacts of COVID patients will not have to quarantine and group gatherings will be allowed in public places.
Lee added that international travelers to Hong Kong will no longer need to take a mandatory COVID-19 PCR test and the city vaccination pass required to enter most venues will also be scrapped.
The lifting of the measures will be effective from December 29.
The Hong Kong government has confirmed that it will not provide COVID vaccination to short-term visitors to the territory.