China said it will start re-issuing all categories of visas to foreigners from Wednesday, dropping the final cross-border control measure it imposed three years ago to guard against the spread of COVID-19.
The move, which comes after authorities last month declared victory over a recent surge in the virus, is expected to help rekindle a $17 trillion economy that has suffered one of its slowest rates of growth in nearly half a century last year.
Areas in China that required no visas prior to 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 Shanghai port.
Visa-free entry to the southern manufacturing hub of Guangdong for foreigners from Hong Kong and Macau will also be resumed.
The ministry also said foreigners holding visas issued before March 28, 2020 that are still within their validity dates will also be able to enter China.
China, which withdrew its advisory to citizens against foreign travel in January, also added another 40 countries to its list for which group tours are allowed, bringing the total number of countries to 60.
The list, however, still excludes Japan, South Korea, Australia and the United States.
In 2022, just 115.7 million cross-border trips were made in and out of China, with foreigners accounting for around 4.5 million.
By contrast, China logged 670 million overall trips in 2019 before the arrival of COVID, with foreigners accounting for 97.7 million.
Beijing abandoned its draconian zero-COVID policies in December and in January cancelled quarantine requirements for incoming travellers.
New Premier Li Qiang said on Monday that China took 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.
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