Coronavirus Update: China stops issuing visas to Japanese and South Korean visitors as spat over test mandates for Chinese tourists widens

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China stopped issuing visas for visitors from Japan and South Korea on Tuesday in apparent retaliation for COVID-testing measures imposed on travelers from China, the Associated Press reported. 

China had warned it would take action against countries that mandate testing for its citizens, who are now free to travel after the government lifted strict restrictions on movement last month, unleashing a wave of new cases.

At least 10 countries in Europe, North America and Asia have imposed test requirements recently, with officials expressing concern about a lack of information about the Chinese outbreak and the potential for new virus variants to emerge.

Japan and South Korea protested the visa stoppage, the AP reported separately on Wednesday.

South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin said he finds it “significantly regrettable” that China stopped issuing short-term visas to South Koreans and called for China to align its pandemic steps with “scientific and objective facts.”

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno criticized China for “one-sidedly” restricting visa issuances to Japanese nationals “because of a reason that is not related to COVID-19 measures.”

Tens of thousands of people have resumed travel in and out of China after the country lifted almost all of its border restrictions, ending three years of strict pandemic controls. Photo: Tyrone Siu/Reuters

In the U.S., the seven-day average of new cases stood at 63,982 on Tuesday, according to a New York Times tracker. That’s down 4% from two weeks ago and below the recent peak of 70,508 on Christmas Eve.

The daily average for hospitalizations was up 15% to 46,900. In an alarming statistic, the average for deaths stood at 580, up 50% from two weeks ago.

Cases are currently rising in 22 states, as well as Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Northern Mariana Islands. In Maryland, cases are up 170% from two weeks ago.

On a per capita basis, New Jersey and Rhode Island are showing the highest rates, with New Jersey recording 32 cases per 100,000 residents and Rhode Island 31.

Cases are also high on a per capita basis in North Carolina and South Carolina, as well as Mississippi and Florida.

Coronavirus Update: MarketWatch’s daily roundup has been curating and reporting all the latest developments every weekday since the coronavirus pandemic began

Other COVID-19 news you should know about:

• Cyprus has joined the list of countries mandating COVID testing for tourists from China, the AP reported. The health ministry said it was heeding the advice of the European Union’s executive arm in requiring passengers from China to submit results from a PCR test taken 48 hours before their departure. The ministry also recommended the use of protective face masks on all flights to and from Cyprus as well as in any areas where people gather in large numbers.

• The Chinese air-travel regulator is preparing to allow airlines to fly more routes between China and the U.S. following the lifting of COVID travel restrictions, state TV reported Wednesday, as the AP reported. U.S. and Chinese airlines are among some 40 carriers that have submitted applications covering some 700 flights per week involving 34 countries, China Central Television reported on its website. It gave no timeline for when normal flights might resume.

See also: Chinese COVID cases expected to peak at 3.7 million a day by Jan. 13, with daily deaths reaching 25,000: health-data company forecast

• The Pentagon formally dropped its COVID-19 vaccination mandate Tuesday, but a new memo signed by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also gives commanders some discretion in how or whether to deploy troops who are not vaccinated, the AP reported. Austin’s memo has been widely anticipated since Dec. 23, when a new law gave him 30 days to rescind the mandate. The Defense Department had already stopped all related personnel actions, such as discharging service members who refused the shot. “The Department will continue to promote and encourage COVID-19 vaccination for all service members,” Austin said in the memo. “Vaccination enhances operational readiness and protects the force.”

Getting the flu can increase the risk of getting a second infection, such as strep throat. The Wall Street Journal’s Daniela Hernandez explains the science behind that, plus what it means for the rest of the winter and how we can protect ourselves from the tripledemic. Illustration: David Fang

Here’s what the numbers say:

The global tally of confirmed cases of COVID-19 topped 665.3 million on Wednesday, while the death toll rose above 6.7 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.

The U.S. leads the world with 101.3 million cases and 1,097,660 fatalities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s tracker shows that 229.3 million people living in the U.S., equal to 69.1% of the total population, are fully vaccinated, meaning they have had their primary shots.

So far, just 48.2 million Americans, equal to 15.4% of the overall population, have had the updated COVID booster that targets both the original virus and the omicron variants.

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