China has included Bulgaria in the group of countries to which organized tourist groups have the right to travel, the Chinese Ministry of Culture and Tourism announced on Thursday, quoted by BTA. The decision comes into effect immediately, writes “Reuters”.

The restrictions were put in place because of the COVID-19 pandemic, during which China closed its doors to foreigners and curtailed Chinese people’s ability to travel abroad to prevent the spread of the infection.

Chinese tour groups will also return to Germany, Great Britain, Finland, Sweden, the United States, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Oman, Israel, Lebanon and Australia. According to the Associated Press, the list includes more than 70 countries to which travel agencies are allowed to start recruiting groups.

Before the pandemic, tourists from mainland China spent more abroad than tourists from any other country on hotels, tours, souvenirs and designer brands, totaling $255 billion in 2019, with group tours estimated to account for about 60% of that.

Their absence since the pandemic has led to financial problems for many tourism-dependent businesses around the world.

This is the third list of countries that receive approvals for group tourism. The first, approved in January, included 20 countries such as Thailand, Russia, Cuba and Argentina. The second was published in March and included 40 countries, including Nepal, France, Portugal and Brazil.

China lifted travel restrictions related to COVID-19 in early December, triggering a tsunami of infections that swept through almost the entire country, and especially rural areas that had until then been spared from the disease. Hospitals overflowed with talk of millions dying from the coronavirus.

In Europe, several countries have introduced tests and extra checks on planes arriving from China to guard against new waves of infections after early 2020, when Chinese tourists were linked to the arrival of COVID-19 on the continent.

Restrictions on foreigners were lifted in March, but authorities remained cautious about resuming tourist group travel.