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China retaliates against South Korea’s COVID curbs, says outbreaks have peaked

China retaliates against South Korea’s COVID curbs, says outbreaks have peaked

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  • Chinese embassy condemns South Korea’s “discriminatory” border rules
  • Some cities say the peak of COVID infections was last month
  • Chinese state media criticizes Pfizer over Paxlovid price

BEIJING, Jan 10 (Reuters) – Beijing on Tuesday retaliated against South Korea’s COVID-19 measures against travelers from China, as state media further played down the severity of the outbreak in the last major economy to reopen its borders after three years of isolation.

China waived mandatory quarantines on arrivals and allowed travel to resume across its border with Hong Kong on Sunday, lifting the last major restrictions under the “zero COVID” regime it abruptly began lifting in early December after historic protests against the restrictions.

But the virus is spreading unchecked among its 1.4 billion people, and concerns about the scale and impact of its outbreak have led South Korea, the United States and other countries to require negative COVID tests from travelers from China.

Although China imposes similar testing requirements for all arrivals, foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters on Tuesday that the entry restrictions on Chinese travelers were “discriminatory”.

“We will take reciprocal measures,” Wang said, without elaborating.

The Chinese Embassy in South Korea has stopped issuing short-term visas for visitors from South Korea, it said on Tuesday, the first retaliatory move against nations imposing COVID-19 restrictions on travelers from China.

The embassy will adjust the policy depending on the removal of South Korea’s “discriminatory entry restrictions” against China, its official WeChat account said.

Kyodo news agency, citing multiple travel industry sources, said China had told travel agencies it had stopped issuing new visas to Japan. An AFP journalist tweeted that the Chinese embassy in Japan posted a statement confirming the curbs on Tuesday, but removed it from its website within minutes.

As the virus spread, China stopped publishing daily figures on infections. It reported five or fewer deaths a day after the policy reversal, figures that have been disputed by the World Health Organization and do not match the growing demand for burial reports.

Some governments have expressed concern about data transparency in Beijing, as international experts predict at least 1 million deaths in China this year. Washington has also raised concerns about future potential mutations of the virus.

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

“Since the outbreak, China has taken an open and transparent attitude,” said the foreign ministry’s Wang.

PAST PEAK

State media played down the seriousness of the outbreak.

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

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

Acting Beijing Mayor Yin Yong said the capital was also past its peak. Li Pan of the Chongqing City Municipal Health Commission said the peak there was reached on December 20.

In the eastern province of Jiangsu, the peak was reached on December 22, while in the neighboring province of Zhejiang, “the first wave of infections has passed smoothly”, officials said.

Financial markets saw the latest border restrictions as a mere inconvenience, with the yuan hitting a near five-month high.

Although daily flights to and from China are still at one-tenth of pre-Covid levels, businesses in Asia, from South Korean and Japanese shopkeepers to Thai tour bus operators and K-pop groups celebrates the prospect of more Chinese tourists.

Chinese shoppers spent $250 billion a year overseas before COVID.

CRITIQUE OF PFIZER

Border rules weren’t the only COVID conflict brewing in China.

State media attacked Pfizer Inc (PFE.N) over the cost of his COVID treatment Paxlovid.

“It’s no secret that US capital powers have already amassed quite a fortune from the world by selling vaccines and drugs, and the US government has been coordinating all along,” the nationalist Global Times tabloid said in an editorial.

Pfizer CEO Albert Burla said Monday that the company is in talks with the Chinese authorities for Paxlovid price but not over licensing a common version in China.

China’s abrupt change of course in its COVID policies has caught many hospitals ill-equipped, while smaller cities have been left scrambling to secure essential fever medicines.

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

Wang Lilly, general manager of another pharmaceutical company, CR Double Crane (600062.SS)told Reuters that intravenous drips are their most requested product.

“We operate 24/7,” Wang said.

Reporting from the Beijing and Shanghai offices; Written by Marius Zacharias; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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