Prime Minister Han Duck-soo said Tuesday South Korea might lift short-term visa restrictions on entrants from China earlier than a new deadline set by the end of February if convincing evidence of declining COVID-19 spread is given.
The decision could be made depending on the virus situation here as Korea has just eased indoor mask mandate and both China and Korea had family gatherings to celebrate Lunar New Year holiday.
"(The government and health experts) can start reviewing plans to lift the short-term visa restrictions before Feb. 28 (deadline), as long as we reach a moment when (the virus situation in Korea) is tolerable," Han said at a press briefing held in Seoul Tuesday.
He added that is was not yet the right moment to drop the restrictions, as there was still a need to minimize the number of entrants from China.
He cited the "insufficient information" to determine the gravity of the COVID-19 infections in China.
Han also pointed to a high proportion of Chinese arrivals to all imported cases that is "not convincing enough" to have Korea lift the measure. Over the past two weeks, nearly two-thirds of all 1,404 imported cases were those who flew from China. Korea stands as the only country to have imposed such a measure on arrivals from China.
The Health Ministry announced Friday that it would extend its short-term visa restrictions on entrants from China by another month until the end of February.
The restrictions, along with COVID-19 test requirements upon arrival, have been in place since Jan. 2. China has responded by imposing short-term visa restrictions and suspending transit visa exemptions for Koreans.