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Tuesday, Jun 18, 2024

Hong Kong to end travel curbs at mainland China border on Monday

Hong Kong to end travel curbs at mainland China border on Monday

John Lee says return to regular travel will boost cultural exchanges and economic activity.
Key points:

*  Full border reopening between mainland China and Hong Kong to resume from Monday

*  No more quotas and pre-departure Covid-19 test for travellers; no booking is required to cross the border

*  All border crossing points, including Lo Wu, Heung Yuen Wai-Liantang and Lok Ma Chau, will reopen

*  Pre-departure rapid antigen tests (RAT) for travellers from Macau to Hong Kong will be dropped

*  Vaccination requirements for overseas arrivals will be lifted

*  RAT pre-departure tests for travellers from overseas and Taiwan will remain for now to manage risks

*  Gradual resumption of travel for cross-border students from next Wednesday, starting with secondary school pupils and later for primary level, kindergartens and special schools

Hong Kong and mainland China will drop all Covid-19 curbs for travellers crossing their shared border on Monday, including daily quotas, but economists have warned the long-awaited end to restrictions will not amount to a silver bullet for a city struggling to emerge from a recession.

Vaccination requirements for overseas arrivals would also be scrapped, but they must continue to present proof of a negative coronavirus test taken before their flight, city leader John Lee Ka-chiu announced on Friday.

Hong Kong students living on the mainland will start to return to classrooms in the city from next Wednesday, beginning with secondary schools. All checkpoints, including Lo Wu, Heung Yuen Wai and Lok Ma Chau, will reopen.

“With the full border reopening between Hong Kong and the mainland, people and cultural exchange and economic activity will be boosted,” Lee said, adding that regular mainland travel tours to the city would resume. “I have also fulfilled the promise I made when running in the chief executive election. I feel happy and reassured.”

Lee said the government would learn from the pandemic, in response to the calls for an independent investigation.

“We will do our lesson learning, we will add the good and successful practices to our guidelines so that we will be able to deal with future challenges,” he said. “We will do lesson learning as we always do within the government.

“At the same time, the government will be working to ensure that Hong Kong develops economically and remains competitive.”

The announcement came a day after the government launched its “Hello Hong Kong” campaign aimed at enticing visitors back after three years of isolation under tough pandemic curbs.

Traffic over the border reduced to a trickle when Covid-19 emerged more than three years ago, but after rounds of talks between authorities on both sides and Beijing’s shift away from its zero-Covid strategy, most curbs on crossing were scrapped on January 8.

The daily quota of 60,000 travellers in each direction will end at midnight on Sunday, and only residents who have been overseas in the week before they enter the mainland will need to take a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test within 48 hours of departure.

Secretary for Security Chris Tang Ping-keung advised residents who were planning to use the Lo Wu checkpoint to budget extra time for the crossing, as renovation work was being carried out on the mainland side.

All travellers heading across should complete the required health declaration at the proper mainland government website or through a dedicated WeChat service.

MTR Corporation announced on Friday that 10 trains would go to Lo Wu every hour when the station reopened on Monday.

From Monday, people arriving from Macau will no longer need to present a negative rapid antigen test (RAT) result upon arrival. Authorities in the casino hub earlier dropped the requirement as part of its gradual reopening to the rest of the world.

Lee’s announcement came hours after the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office issued a statement saying travellers must continue to declare their health status when crossing the border. Anyone reporting coronavirus symptoms such as a fever must undergo testing by mainland customs officers. People who test positive can isolate at a place of their choosing or seek medical treatment.

Secretary for Health Lo Chung-mau noted that Covid-19 cases had not risen after the first phase of the border reopening early last month.

In the four weeks to last Sunday, the daily number of confirmed infections in Hong Kong dropped by 80 per cent, falling from more than 14,000 to about 3,000. Sewage surveillance also showed virus levels had plunged by 90 per cent over the same period.

“The border reopening did not worsen Hong Kong’s epidemic situation,” Lo said.

Imported cases had also remained low, with arrivals from the mainland accounting for 16 per cent of them. Neither had public clinics and accident and emergency departments at hospitals been inundated with non-residents seeking treatment, he noted.

The city on Friday logged 471 new Covid-19 cases detected through PCR tests and four additional deaths.

While the full reopening of the border has been eagerly anticipated by residents and businesses, economists warned against expecting a significant economic boost in the months ahead.

Simon Lee Siu-po, an honorary fellow of the Chinese University’s Asia-Pacific Institute of Business, said retailers would enjoy a small bump but nothing “miracle-like”.

“Mainlanders have already got used to living without Hong Kong. They could shop online or through purchasing agents,” Lee said.

He noted the mainland was facing its own slow economic recovery.

“The Hong Kong government is a bit overly optimistic,” he said. “The border reopening doesn’t mean all problems are solved.”

Terence Chong Tai-leung, an associate professor of economics at Chinese University, expected it would take at least six months for the number of tourists to reach two-thirds of pre-pandemic levels.

Lau Siu-kai, a consultant at the semi-official Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies think tank, said the move could improve the government’s popularity.

“Hong Kong’s economic development and livelihood will improve upon the border reopening, and Hongkongers will also be more optimistic about the city’s future. This will help the government’s popularity,” he said.

But Lau cautioned that global economic woes and inflation in food and energy could still bring undermine the city’s growth, meaning the benefits of the border reopening “should not be overly exaggerated”.

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