S. Korea considering lifting visa ban on travelers from China: health agency chief
By Kim Boram
SEOUL, Feb. 7 (Yonhap) -- The head of South Korea's public health agency said Tuesday that Seoul is mulling lifting visa restrictions on travelers from China earlier than scheduled as the COVID-19 situation in the neighboring country is improving.
"We see that the infection cases in China are on a steady decline from various data. And no new variant has been reported there," Jee Young-mee, commissioner of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA), said in a press event.
"We will retain the coronavirus tests on Chinese arrivals until Feb. 28, but we are considering lifting the short-term visa ban on Chinese travelers before the timeline."
As China has experienced a surge in infections after opening its doors at the end of last year, South Korea tightened curbs on travelers from the neighboring country, halting the issuance of short-term visas from its diplomatic missions in China.
Those entering South Korea are also required to undergo a coronavirus test before and after arriving here until the end of February.
In retaliation, China suspended short-term visa issuance for South Koreans.
Jee's comment is in line with Prime Minister Han Duck-soo's previous comment that the visa restrictions could be lifted before late February if the positive cases from the neighboring nation stay at a manageable level.
The KDCA chief, who took office in December, said the agency is now preparing for the end of the pandemic and a policy transition to a pre-pandemic normal life. As a first step, the mask mandate for indoor spaces was lifted last month.
"Returning to daily life means that we get out of the emergency situation and can control the disease that is constantly present in the population," she said. "To achieve the level, we have to decide how to deal with vaccination schedules and isolation policies."
She said the detailed plans to cope with COVID-19 as an endemic will be announced after a scheduled meeting of the World Health Organization (WHO) in April.
In a committee meeting last month, WHO said COVID-19 remains a public health emergency, but the pandemic is at a "transition point." It will review whether to put an end to the state of the pandemic three months later.
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