HONG KONG: Hong Kong will reopen its borders with China by mid-January, city Chief Executive John Lee said on Saturday (Dec 24), as Beijing accelerates the unwinding of stringent COVID-19 rules that have battered economic growth.
Lee, speaking at a press event at the airport in Hong Kong as he returned from a trip to Beijing, said the goal in “gradually, orderly, and fully” reopening the city will be to return the border to its state before the virus outbreak.
“Our goal is to quickly come to a consensus with the central government, submit our plan to the central government for review and execute on the plan before mid-January,” said Lee.
Hong Kong authorities will work with the governments of neighbouring Shenzhen city and Guangdong province to manage the flow of people crossing the border, Lee said.
At present, individuals hoping to enter China through Hong Kong can only do so through the city’s airport or two checkpoints – Shenzhen Bay or the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge.
Entrants into China must also undergo a period of hotel quarantine before they can move about freely.
Preparations for reopening are underway, including deploying thousands of officers from the city’s customs, immigration and police services, local media say.
Hong Kong’s government said on Dec 12 that Chinese authorities had allowed cross-border truck drivers to collect and deliver goods directly to their destinations without using designated checkpoints.
Arriving travellers may also continue directly to China or Macao as long as they meet the required criteria, the city government said. Previously they had to wait three days in the city before continuing to China.
Hong Kong and Beijing shut their borders in early 2020 as COVID-19 first surfaced and they have remained closed since then, as China has capped inbound travellers as part of its strict “zero-COVID” policy.
Beijing loosened China’s domestic zero-COVID restrictions earlier this month, dropping mandatory testing requirements and travel restrictions.
While many have welcomed the easing, families and the health system were unprepared for the resulting surge of infections. Hospitals are scrambling for beds and blood, pharmacies for drugs and authorities are racing to build clinics.