China will reopen its borders to foreign tourists for the first time in the three years since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic by resuming the issuance of all types of visas from Wednesday.
The removal of this latest cross-border control measure imposed to protect against Covid-19 comes after authorities last month declared victory over a recent virus surge.
The boost to the tourism sector should help reignite a $17 trillion economy that last year experienced one of the slowest growth rates in nearly half a century.
Areas in China that did not require visas before the pandemic will revert to visa-free entry, the foreign ministry said on Tuesday. This will include the southern tourist island of Hainan and cruise ships passing through the port of Shanghai.
Visa-free entry into Guangdong’s southern manufacturing hub for foreigners from Hong Kong and Macau will also be restored.
The ministry also said foreigners holding visas issued before March 28, 2020 and still within the validity dates will be allowed to enter China.
“The resumption of applications for all visa types removes another significant barrier to the resumption of normal travel between the UK and China,” Tom Simpson, chief executive of the China-Britain Business Council, told Reuters.
“The (council) has already seen business travel applications and arrivals start to increase since January, however, this news should lead to a significant increase in visits particularly for tourism.”
China, which withdrew its warning to citizens against overseas travel in January, also added 40 more countries to its list for which group travel is allowed, bringing the total number of countries to 60.
Inbound and outbound international flights in the week of March 6 increased more than 350 percent from a year earlier to nearly 2,500 flights, according to China’s flight-tracking app Flight Master, though the number was still only 17.4% compared to 2019 levels.
In 2022, there were only 115.7 million cross-border trips to and from China, involving around 4.5 million foreigners.
By contrast, China recorded 670 million overall trips in 2019 before the arrival of Covid, with 97.7 million foreigners.
Beijing abandoned its draconian zero-Covid policies in December and lifted quarantine requirements for incoming travelers in January.
New Premier Li Qiang said on Monday that it took China less than two months to achieve a “smooth transition” in its response to COVID-19 and that the country’s strategies and measures had been completely correct.