China will reopen its borders to foreign tourists for the first time in three years since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic by resuming the issuance of all types of visas from Wednesday.
The lifting of this last cross-border control measure to protect against Covid-19 comes after authorities last month declared victory over a recent surge in the virus.
The boost to the tourism sector should help revitalize a $17 trillion economy that last year suffered one of the slowest growth rates in nearly half a century.
Areas in China that did not require a visa prior to the pandemic will resume visa-free entry, the foreign ministry said on Tuesday. These include the southern tourist island of Hainan and cruise ships passing through the port of Shanghai.
Visa-free entry to the southern manufacturing hub of Guangdong for foreigners from Hong Kong and Macau will also resume.
The ministry also said foreigners with visas issued before March 28, 2020 and still within their validity dates can also enter China.
“The resumption of visa applications for all types of visas removes another significant obstacle to the resumption of normal travel between the UK and China,” Tom Simpson, executive director of the China-Britain Business Council, told Reuters.
“The (Council) has already seen an increase in business travel applications and arrivals since January, but this news should result in a significant increase in visits, particularly for tourism.”
China, which in January withdrew its warning to citizens against outbound travel, added another 40 countries to its list for which group travel is allowed, bringing the total to 60 countries.
According to Chinese flight tracking APP Flight Master, inbound and outbound international flights rose more than 350 percent year-on-year to nearly 2,500 flights in the week of March 6, although the number is still only 17.4 percent of the level of 2019 was.
In 2022, only 115.7 million cross-border trips were made to and from China, with foreigners accounting for around 4.5 million.
In contrast, in 2019 before the arrival of Covid, China recorded a total of 670 million trips, with foreigners accounting for 97.7 million.
Beijing abandoned its draconian zero-Covid policy in December and lifted quarantine requirements for incoming travelers in January.
New premier Li Qiang said 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 policies and measures have been entirely correct.