China is preparing to issue normal passports and visas, a major step away from the COVID measures that have isolated the country for nearly three years – as Hong Kong announces that people who have tested positive for the virus They will no longer have to be quarantined.

Beijing’s announcement means millions of Chinese could go abroad for the Lunar New Year holiday next month.

This poses the risk that they could spread the coronavirus as infections rise in the country.

Japan, India and Taiwan have responded to China’s surge in infections by requiring virus tests for travelers arriving from the country.

US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Washington was considering similar measures.

China’s rollback of some of the world’s strictest anti-virus controls comes as President Xi Jinping’s government seeks to overcome an economic crisis.

Laws that confined millions of people to their homes kept infection rates low in China but fueled public protests and crushed economic growth.

China stopped issuing visas to foreigners and passports to its own people at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020.

China’s National Immigration Administration said it will start accepting applications for overseas tourist passports from January 8.

He also said he would resume issuing permits for tourists and businessmen to visit Hong Kong, a Chinese territory with its own border controls.

The agency said it will take applications for general visas and residence permits.

It said the government would “gradually resume” allowing foreign visitors but gave no indication of when full tourist travel from overseas might be allowed.

Health experts and economists expect the ruling Communist Party to maintain restrictions on travel to China until at least mid-2023 while it campaigns to vaccinate millions of elderly people.

Experts say this is necessary to prevent a public health crisis.

During the pandemic, Chinese with family emergencies or those whose work travel was considered important could obtain passports, but some students and businessmen who have visas to travel abroad were denied entry by border guards. was stopped. A handful of foreign businessmen and others who were allowed into China were quarantined for a week.

Before the pandemic, China was the largest source of foreign tourists for most of its Asian neighbors and an important market for Europe and the United States.

The government has dropped or relaxed most quarantine, testing and other restrictions within China, joining the US, Japan and other governments in trying to live with the virus rather than end transmission.

On Monday, the government said it would end quarantine requirements for travelers arriving from abroad, effective January 8.

Foreign companies welcomed the change as an important step to revive declining business activities.

Business groups have warned that global companies are driving investment away from China after foreign executives were barred from visiting.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong is ending all social distancing measures except for the mandatory mask rule.

Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee also said that close contacts of Covid patients would not have to be quarantined and that group gatherings in public places would be allowed.

Mr Lee added that international travelers to Hong Kong will no longer need to undergo the mandatory PCR COVID-19 test and the city’s vaccine pass for entry to most destinations will also be abolished.

The measures will be implemented from December 29.

The Hong Kong government has confirmed that it will not provide COVID vaccinations to short-term visitors to the territory.

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