China, Hong Kong reopen border as Beijing drops zero Covid curbs

China and Hong Kong confirmed plans to reopen their shared border on Sunday after nearly three years of coronavirus restrictions that have stifled cross-border tourism and business activity.

However, crossings to and from mainland China will be limited to an estimated 60,000 per day per route, Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee said on Thursday. The visits will be the first to be exempt from quarantine on arrival since early 2020, but represent only a fraction of pre-pandemic numbers.

The easing of cross-border restrictions was timed with Beijing lifting entry restrictions for overseas travelers, including scrapping PCR tests on arrival, in what Chinese authorities late last month called an abrupt exit from the country’s zero-Covid containment policy announced.

“With the approval of the central government [Hong Kong’s] The road to normalcy is now almost 100 percent complete,” Lee said at a news conference.

Hong Kong’s economic pillars, from the retail sector to the real estate market, have been hit by the pandemic. The gross domestic product of the financial center is expected to shrink by 3.2 percent in 2022.

The pandemic has taken a heavy toll on tourism, which contributed around 4.5 percent to Hong Kong’s economy in 2018, with a majority of 65 million coming from mainland China. Mainland visitors fell to about 249,000 in the first 10 months of last year.

The area only waived quarantine requirements for overseas visitors in September, which once stretched over three weeks. Arrival testing requirements and other social restrictions were dropped last week.

Retail sales in Hong Kong also fell nearly 20 percent between January and November last year compared to the same period in 2019.

The sector is not expecting an immediate increase in sales during this month’s Lunar New Year, usually a peak season, as China’s massive Covid-19 outbreak dampens travel sentiment.

“We don’t expect many mainland tourists traveling to Hong Kong to be on a spending spree right after the borders reopen,” said Hong Kong Retail Management Association Chairwoman Annie Yau, citing persistently weak domestic retail demand in the mainland.

Beijing announced Thursday that Hong Kong residents would no longer be required to take a Covid test on arrival from Sunday, but would need a negative PCR test result within 48 hours of departure. The same requirement applies to visitors from abroad.

Those traveling to Hong Kong from mainland China also require a negative PCR test before departure, while overseas arrivals only need to take a rapid antigen test.

The Hong Kong government later released details including a daily cap of 50,000 each way for land border crossings with Shenzhen due to capacity constraints. The remaining 10,000 daily visitors are expected to arrive by plane and ferry. A high-speed rail link with mainland China will resume operations no later than Jan. 15, government officials said.

The latest precautions came as Beijing objected this week to a growing list of countries imposing testing requirements on arrivals from China in hopes of preventing a spike in infections from spreading.

“Covid Response Measures . . . must not be used for political manipulation,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning said at a news conference on Wednesday. “There should be no discriminatory measures against certain countries.”

The EU on Wednesday recommended that member states require travelers from China to have Covid tests before departure, followed by countries like the US, Britain, France, Italy, Spain, Japan and South Korea that have introduced controls including mandatory testing and vaccination certificates . China, Hong Kong reopen border as Beijing drops zero Covid curbs

Adam Bradshaw

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