Hong Kong, China to ring in Lunar New Year with reopened border

The Hong Kong-China border will reopen on Sunday after three years of being almost completely closed. The move coincides with the close arrival of the Chinese Lunar New Year, a holiday that will likely lead to a significant number of travelers in the area.

Kin Cheung/AP
People in Hong Kong visit the border, with the skyline of China's Shenzhen in the background, on Feb. 13, 2021. Hong Kong will start to reopen its border with China on Jan. 8, 2023. Travelers will need a negative COVID-19 test but do not need to quarantine.

Hong Kong will start to reopen its border with mainland China on Sunday and allow tens of thousands of people to cross from each side every day without quarantine, the city’s leader said.

The city’s land and sea border checkpoints with the mainland have been largely closed for almost three years under China’s “zero-COVID” strategy, which has restricted entry to the country, isolated infected people, and locked down areas with outbreaks. The border reopening is expected to provide a much-needed boost to Hong Kong’s economy.

At the same time, China is seeking to minimize the possibility of a major new COVID-19 outbreak during this month’s Lunar New Year travel rush, following the end of most pandemic containment measures. The Transportation Ministry on Friday called on travelers to reduce trips and gatherings, particularly if they involve elderly people, pregnant women, small children, and those with underlying conditions.

Vice Minister Xu Chengguang said authorities expect more than 2 billion trips to be made during the weeklong festival season of the Lunar New Year, the most important time to visit family and friends in the traditional Chinese calendar. That is nearly double the number of last year and 70% more than the same period in 2019 before the pandemic hit, Mr. Xu said.

Demand for family visits and tourism has “accumulated over the past three years of the pandemic to be met all at once,” Mr. Xu said.

Thursday’s announcement about the border came as China is easing some of the world’s toughest antivirus controls. Beginning Sunday, China will also gradually increase the number of flights between Hong Kong and the mainland and scrap the limit on passenger numbers for flights from the city, the Chinese government said in a statement.

“My personal inclination is, if factors permit, I want to allow a large number of people to go through because that has been the voice of a lot of people, both locally and overseas – wishing Hong Kong to proceed to normalcy as quickly as possible,” Chief Executive John Lee said at a press conference.

During the first phase of the reopening, four border checkpoints that were closed for nearly three years will resume operations, bringing the number of checkpoints up and running in the city to seven, Mr. Lee said. Currently, all but three checkpoints in Hong Kong are shut.

The Hong Kong government will decide when to expand the scale of border reopening after reviewing the situation with mainland authorities, Mr. Lee added.

Under a quota system, up to 60,000 people can travel from Hong Kong to mainland China each day. The same cap is also imposed on the number of travelers entering the city from the north, he said.

But Hong Kong residents in mainland China who want to return to the city are not bound by the quota system, and neither are mainland Chinese residents in Hong Kong going north.

Travelers will have to obtain a negative COVID-19 test result within 48 hours before departure. Those crossing via designated land border checkpoints have to register online to secure a quota slot.

Hong Kong is a semi-autonomous Chinese territory that borders Guangdong province in southeast China. People must pass through immigration to cross between the two. The border restrictions imposed since 2020 have hammered the city’s economy, especially the tourism sector.

Also starting on Sunday, the mainland will no longer require inbound travelers to quarantine, marking a major step toward fully reopening travel with the rest of the world.

Mainland Chinese residents will be allowed to visit Hong Kong for sightseeing purposes in a gradual and orderly manner, depending on the city’s capacity and pandemic situation, the Chinese government added.

This story was reported by The Associated Press.

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