China will reopen the border with its special administrative region of Hong Kong on Sunday for the first time in three years, as it accelerates the unwinding of stringent COVID rules that have battered its economic growth.
The opening will bring the resumption of quarantine-free travel between the financial hub and the mainland, although it would be done in a “gradual and orderly” way, China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office said in a notice on Thursday.
China is set to reopen to the world on Sunday, welcoming international travellers and returning residents without the need to quarantine for the first time since 2020, even as infections surge after it scrapped its COVID curbs.
Short of imposing a city-wide lockdown, Hong Kong closely followed China’s tough zero-COVID policy until the middle of 2022 when it began to ease some of restrictions.
The former British colony dropped all of its COVID rules in December but masks remain mandatory except while exercising.
Hong Kong and China have trailed most of the world in easing tough COVID precautions and the border reopening was postponed several times over the past year because of COVID outbreaks in one place or the other.
Hong Kong leader John Lee told reporters on Thursday a maximum of 60,000 people a day from either Hong Kong or China could cross the border from January 8. People would need to make a reservation online to cross land borders, while ferries and flights are subject to ticket availability.
“Entering mainland via Hong Kong becomes a very realistic and feasible choice,” Lee said. “In terms of attracting foreign investment and talents it will bring a very positive effect.”
Lee said the government will make an announcement about border crossing arrangements between Hong Kong and the gambling hub of Macau at a later date.
People in Hong Kong have only been able to reach the mainland via the city’s airport or just two check-points, one at Shenzhen Bay and the other via the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge.
Most other border points including the West Kowloon high speed rail terminus have been closed since early 2020.
Before the coronavirus emerged in China in late 2019, there were more than 236 million passenger trips over their border a year, government data showed.
China will no longer require people to present COVID tests upon arrival in the mainland from Hong Kong, while China will issue special tourism and business visas for mainland residents to visit Hong Kong from January 8, the office said.
China will also increase flights between the mainland, Hong Kong and Macau, it said.
Hong Kong residents have flocked to clinics to get vaccinated against COVID ahead of the border reopening, which some fear could bring a surge in both infections and demand for mRNA vaccines that are not widely available in the mainland.