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China to reopen borders to foreign tourists for first time since 2020

China is set to once again start issuing a range of visas to foreigners with effect from Wednesday, the country’s foreign ministry said, in a major easing of travel restrictions in place since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In addition to new visas being reviewed and approved, those issued before March 28, 2020 that remain valid will once again allow entry to China, said a notice posted Tuesday on a social media account affiliated with the foreign ministry’s consular affairs bureau.

The move marks the latest step towards reopening China to the outside world, as Beijing breaks with the strict zero-Covid strategy that defined its pandemic response until a few months ago.

The updated policy will also allow for the resumption of visa-free travel for those arriving on cruise ships to Shanghai as well as for certain tourist groups from Hong Kong, Macau and countries within the ASEAN regional grouping, the notice said.

The move would “further facilitate the exchange of Chinese and foreign personnel”, it added.

China received 65.7 million international visitors in 2019, according to data from the UN World Tourism Organization, before sealing itself off from the rest of the world during the pandemic.

While most countries started fully reopening their economies and welcoming international travellers earlier, China only began emerging from its strict Covid-19 containment strategy in late 2022, after rare demonstrations against President Xi Jinping’s signature policy broke out across the country.

The protests in late November expanded into calls for more political freedoms, with some even calling for Xi to resign, the most widespread opposition to communist rule since the 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising.

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