China retaliates against South Korea and Japan over COVID restrictions

  • Chinese embassy slams ‘discriminatory’ rules at South Korean border
  • Some cities say the peak of COVID infections was last month
  • Chinese state media slams Pfizer over Paxlovid pricing

BEIJING, Jan 10 (Reuters) – China began hitting back on Tuesday against South Korea and Japan, two of the countries that have imposed COVID-19 restrictions on travelers from China, the latest major economy to reopen its borders after three years of isolation.

The Chinese Embassy in Seoul said it has suspended issuing short-term visas for visitors from South Korea. Japanese news agency Kyodo reported that Beijing had imposed similar measures against Japan.

China reopened its borders on Sunday, removing the last major restriction that was part of a “zero-COVID” regime it abruptly began dismantling in early December after historic border protests.

Frequent lockdowns, relentless testing and various other brakes on movement since the start of 2020 have taken the world’s second-largest economy to one of its slowest growth rates in nearly half a century and caused widespread distress. .

With the virus unleashed, China stopped publishing daily infection counts. It has reported five or fewer deaths a day since the policy reversal, figures which have been disputed by the World Health Organization and which are inconsistent with funeral homes reporting an increase in demand for their services.

The United States, South Korea, France and others have introduced testing requirements in response to the COVID outbreak in China.

Some governments have raised concerns about Beijing’s transparency on the scale and impact of its outbreak, as international experts predict at least 1 million deaths in China this year. Washington has also raised concerns about potential future mutations of the virus.

Although Beijing also requires negative COVID test results from anyone landing in China, officials last week threatened retaliation against countries mandating testing for people coming from China.

The Chinese Embassy in Seoul said on its official WeChat account that it would adjust its latest visa rules subject to the lifting of South Korea’s “discriminatory entry restrictions” against China.

China has also told travel agencies it has stopped issuing new visas to Japan, Kyodo said, citing multiple travel industry sources.

China dismissed criticism of its data as politically motivated attempts to smear its “success” in handling the pandemic and said any future mutations were likely to be more contagious but less harmful.

State media continued on Tuesday to downplay the severity of the outbreak.

An article in the Health Times, a publication run by People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s official newspaper, quoted several officials as saying infections had declined in the capital Beijing and several Chinese provinces.

Kan Quan, director of Henan Province’s Office of Epidemic Prevention and Control, said the infection rate in the central province of 100 million people was nearly 90 percent as of Jan. 6.

Yin Yong, acting mayor of Beijing, said the capital was also past its peak. Li Pan, deputy director of the Chongqing City Municipal Health Commission, said the peak was reached on Dec. 20.

In Jiangsu province, the peak was reached on December 22, while in Zheijiang province “the first wave of infections went well”, officials said. Two cities in the southern province of Guangdong, China’s manufacturing heartland, reached their peak before the end of the year.

PFIZER REVIEW

Financial markets viewed the latest border restrictions as a mere inconvenience, with the yuan hitting a nearly five-month high on Tuesday.

Although daily flights to and from China are still a tenth of pre-COVID levels at the moment, businesses across Asia, including South Korean and Japanese store owners, Thai tour operators and K-pop groups are licking their lips at the prospect of more Chinese tourists.

Overseas spending by Chinese shoppers was a $250 billion a year market before COVID.

Retaliation against South Korea and Japan was not the only COVID conflict simmering in China.

State media also brushed off Pfizer Inc on the price of its COVID treatment Paxlovid.

“It is no secret that the forces of American capital have already amassed quite a bit of fortune in the world through the sale of vaccines and medicines, and the American government has coordinated from the beginning,” said the nationalist tabloid Global Times in an editorial.

Pfizer chief executive Albert Bourla said on Monday the company was in talks with Chinese authorities about a price for Paxlovid, but not about licensing a generic version in China.

The abrupt shift in COVID policies has taken many ill-equipped hospitals, while small towns have scrambled to get basic fever medication.

Yu Weishi, chairman of Youcare Pharmaceutical Group, told Reuters his company had quintupled production of its anti-fever drugs to one million boxes a day in the past month.

Wang Lili, managing director of another pharmaceutical company, CR Double Crane (600062.SS), told Reuters that intravenous drops were their most popular product.

Since January 5, the company has eliminated weekends to meet demand.

“We operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week,” Wang said.

Reports from the Beijing and Shanghai offices; Written by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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