China said on Friday that cross-border travel between the mainland, Hong Kong and Macau would fully resume from Monday Feb 6th, dropping existing quotas and scrapping a mandatory Covid-19 test that was required before travelling.
Group tours between China and the two special administrative regions will resume, while the number of Customs checkpoints open will return to pre-pandemic levels, China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office said on its website.
Even after China reopened its borders to the world on Jan 8, a quota system and Covid-19 testing requirements remained for travelers between the mainland and Hong Kong.
The three border checkpoints that have not yet reopened will do so from Monday, Hong Kong’s leader John Lee said at a press conference on Friday.
Hong Kong will also scrap a Covid-19 vaccination requirement to enter Hong Kong for all arrivals, including non-Hong Kong residents, Mr. Lee added.
China’s announcement came a day after Hong Kong launched a promotion campaign, including 500,000 free flights to woo back visitors, businesses and investors to the financial hub after more than three years of tough Covid-19 curbs.
Hong Kong and Macau have both stuck to Beijing’s zero-Covid strategy for nearly three years, splitting families, cutting off tourism and suffocating businesses.
Hong Kong was largely sealed off behind closed borders for much of the past three years in a bid to ward off Covid-19, with mandatory quarantine of up to three weeks for people arriving, along with intensive testing and screening.
The city closely followed China’s zero-Covid policy until the middle of 2022, when it began to gradually unwind its rules.
Hong Kong dropped most of its remaining Covid-19 rules last December, but mask-wearing remains mandatory unless exercising, and students must take daily antigen rapid tests.
Limited travel across the border between Hong Kong and the mainland resumed in January.
Initially, only 60,000 people were allowed to cross each day in either direction, and they were required to show a negative PCR test.
Mr. Lee said on Friday that the partial reopening had been “orderly, safe and smooth”.
Hong Kong’s lengthy separation from its biggest source of growth inflicted a heavy toll, with some estimating it cost the financial hub US$27 billion (S$35 billion).
Mainlanders have long made up the vast majority of visitors to Hong Kong, with about 51 million arriving in 2018, nearly seven times the city’s population.
City officials are hoping an influx of visitors will revitalize the recession-hit economy, injecting cash into the once-vibrant tourism and retail sectors.
Unvaccinated overseas travelers will be allowed to visit Hong Kong starting on Monday, but Mr. Lee said pre-arrival rapid antigen tests will still be required.
“As the full reopening of the border with mainland China will bring a large surge in travel, to ensure risks are manageable we will keep the testing requirement for overseas travelers for a period of observation,” he said.
Outdoor masking remains compulsory in Hong Kong, though Mr. Lee has said the policy could be scrapped after the winter flu surge.
Source: REUTERS, AFP