China-Hong Kong border to 'fully reopen' in early January: SCMP

Under the current mainland rules, visitors from Hong Kong are limited by a daily quota, while they also have to undergo five days of hotel quarantine. - Reuters

HONG KONG (Bloomberg): The border between Hong Kong and mainland China is set to "fully reopen” early next month for the first time in three years, the South China Morning Post reported, as the Communist Party rolls back Covid restrictions to bolster its faltering economy.

Preparations are being made for the reopening of the border, including sending thousands of customs, immigration and police officers to land checkpoints to handle the expected crowds, the SCMP reported, citing unnamed people. The high-speed rail service will start running at the same time, it said.

Beijing is keen to restore travel by early next month to revive the economies of Hong Kong and the mainland, the SCMP said, citing a person familiar with the plan. Data released Thursday showed China’s economic activity weakened sharply in November before the government abruptly dropped its Covid Zero policy.

Publicly, Hong Kong officials have taken a more cautious approach to the border reopening. The city’s leader John Lee said on Thursday it’s "highly possible” to lift border controls next year, adding he hopes for step-by-step restoration of exchanges with neighboring Shenzhen, according to a Weibo post.

Under the current mainland rules, visitors from Hong Kong are limited by a daily quota, while they also have to undergo five days of hotel quarantine.

Mainland visitors also have to quarantine on their return. The SCMP report didn’t make it clear whether international travelers would be able to freely enter the mainland via Hong Kong. Most of Hong Kong’s border checkpoints have been closed since early 2020.

Hong Kong could see an estimated 7.6% boost to its gross domestic product from China’s reopening, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. economists said Monday. The local economy is projected to have contracted this year for the third time in four years. The city hosted almost 44 million arrivals from mainland China in 2019.

Now that President Xi Jinping has changed his mind on Covid Zero, officials can work fast to revive the economy, said Dongshu Liu, assistant professor specializing in Chinese politics at the City University of Hong Kong.

"The social and economic pressure is huge on both sides, resuming travel is something very urgent for them,” he said.

The city scrapped some of its remaining Covid restrictions on Tuesday, including a ban on new arrivals going to bars or restaurants and ending a policy requiring people to scan a QR code when entering venues. The city still requires masks to be worn in public.

The speed at which China has shifted its attitude to Covid has taken the city by surprise. China’s top medical advisor Zhong Nanshan likened the virus to the common cold, saying omicron’s fatality rate is only 0.1%. He spoke at a university lecture, according to videos of his remarks on social media.

Hong Kong’s health-care system was overwhelmed when Omicron entered the city early this year, causing the deaths of thousands, many of them unvaccinated elderly.

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Hong Kong , China , border , reopen


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