The move comes after similar announcements by India, Italy, Taiwan and the US.

South Korea will test travelers from China for COVID-19 and restrict short-term visas for Chinese nationals, joining a handful of countries that have introduced travel restrictions due to rising infections in the world’s most populous country.

Travelers from China must present a negative PCR test within 48 hours of departure or a rapid antigen test within 24 hours, followed by a PCR test after arrival, Prime Minister Han Duck-soo said on Friday.

The on-arrival and pre-departure tests will come into effect from 2 January and 5 January respectively.

South Korea is also temporarily halting expansion of flights to China and restricting all domestic flights to Incheon International Airport, the country’s largest, Han said.

“We urgently need to prepare for any domestic ripple effects following China’s relaxation of quarantine rules,” Han said. “We will prepare to take stricter measures in case the situation worsens, if we see a rapid increase in infections from new entrants or the emergence of new variants.”

The measures, most of which are in effect until at least the end of February, come after India, Italy, Taiwan and the United States introduced COVID testing for arrivals from China amid concerns about the potential emergence of new variants and the Chinese government’s lack of transparency. Other countries, including the Philippines and the United Kingdom, are considering similar measures.

Some health experts have questioned the necessity of the restrictions, arguing they are unlikely to stop the spread of new virus variants.

European Union officials on Thursday rejected a call from Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni for the bloc to test all airline passengers from China.

The number of infections in China has surged following Beijing’s decision to wind down its controversial “zero-COVID” policy, putting pressure on hospitals, mortuaries and crematoriums.

Chinese authorities have been accused of downplaying the seriousness of the situation, with health officials reporting only a handful of deaths in recent weeks.

Health experts have predicted that China could face up to 2 million deaths in the coming months due to the population’s lack of natural immunity after nearly three years of isolation and patchy vaccination coverage among the elderly.

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