BEIJING (AP) — Two years after being separated from his wife in mainland China, Hong Kong resident Cheung Cheng-bun made sure to be first in line following the reopening of border crossings on Sunday.
The ability of residents of the semi-autonomous southern Chinese city to cross is one of the most visible signs of China’s easing of border controls, with travelers from abroad no longer subject to quarantine.
“I’m rushing to get back to her,” Cheung, clutching a heavy suitcase, told The Associated Press as he prepared to cross Lok Ma Chau station.
However, passengers traveling between Hong Kong and mainland China must show a negative Covid-19 test taken within the last 48 hours – something China has protested while being imposed by other countries.
Hong Kong has been hit hard by the virus, and its land and sea border checkpoints have been closed for nearly three years. Despite the risk of new infections, the reopening, which allows tens of thousands of people with reservations to cross each day, is expected to provide a much-needed boost to Hong Kong’s tourism and retail sectors.
During a visit to the station on Sunday morning, Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee said the number of crossing points will be expanded from the current seven to a full 14.
“The goal is to return to pre-pandemic normal life as soon as possible,” Lee told reporters. “We want to get cooperation between the two sides back on track.”
About 200 passengers are expected to take the ferry to Hong Kong, and another 700 will travel in the other direction, the Communist Party newspaper Global Times quoted Dan Luming, a port official in Shenzhen, which borders Hong Kong. Re-opening day. Tan said a steady increase in passenger numbers is expected in the coming days.
“I stayed up all night and woke up at 4:00 a.m. I’m so excited to go back to the mainland to see my 80-year-old mother,” said a Hong Kong woman identified only by her surname Cheung. Arrived in Shenzhen, where he was presented with “roses and hygiene kits”.
About 300,000 travel bookings have already been made from Hong Kong to mainland China, according to Hong Kong media reports.
Limited ferry service from China’s Fujian Province to the Chinese coast to Taiwan-controlled Kinmen Island was also restored.
Regular border crossings with Russia resumed at Sufenhe in the northern province of Heilongjiang, just as the snow festival began in the capital, Harbin, a major tourist attraction.
China’s borders are largely sealed, however, and major airports have received only a fraction of the previous number of international flights.
Beijing’s main capital international airport expects eight flights from overseas on Sunday, the airport said. Shanghai, China’s largest city, received its first international flight under the new policy at 6:30 a.m., with only other international flights following suit.
That number is now expected to go upwards as booking inquiries for overseas flights fuel some online travel services ahead of the Lunar New Year travel rush later this month. Capital International is gearing up to re-open visiting halls that have been quiet for the past three years.
Meanwhile, Shanghai announced it will begin reissuing regular passports to Chinese for overseas travel and family trips, as well as renewing and extending visas for foreigners. Those restrictions have had a particularly devastating effect on foreign businessmen and students in major Asian financial centers.
China is now facing an increase in cases and hospitalizations In major cities, the development is gearing up to spread further to lower areas with the start of China’s most important holiday of the year, which is set to begin in the coming days.
Officials say domestic rail and air travel is expected to double from the same period last year, approaching the overall numbers of the 2019 holiday season before the pandemic hit.
Meanwhile, controversy over screening requirements on Chinese travelers by foreign governments — most recently Germany and Sweden — continues. On Saturday, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbach urged citizens to avoid “unnecessary” travel to China, citing a rise in coronavirus cases in the country and saying China’s health system was “overburdened”.
German regulation allows for spot checks on arrival and Germany, like other European countries, will test sewage from flights for new virus variants. The measures will come into effect from midnight on Monday and will last until April 7.
China, apparently concerned about its reputation, says the testing requirements are not scientifically based and threatens unspecified countermeasures.
Chinese health officials publish daily numbers of new cases, severe cases and deaths, but those numbers include only officially confirmed cases and use a very narrow definition of COVID-19-related deaths.
Officials say they can no longer provide a full picture of the state of the latest outbreak as the government ends mandatory testing and allows people with mild symptoms to self-test and recover at home.
Government spokesmen insisting the situation is under control, rejecting allegations by the World Health Organization and others, and providing other critical information about the number of cases and deaths or the nature of the current outbreak could lead to revelations. New variations.
Despite such assertions, the health commission on Saturday issued regulations for strengthened surveillance of virus mutations, including testing of urban sewage. The lengthy rules called for data collection from hospitals and local government health departments and intensive testing of “pneumonia of unknown cause.”
Criticism has often focused on the harsh enforcement of restrictions, including open-ended travel restrictions that have seen people confined to their homes for weeks, sometimes without adequate food or medical care.
Anger was also expressed over the requirement that those who test positive or have been in contact with such a person be confined for observation in a field hospital, where overcrowding, poor food and sanitation are commonly cited.
The social and economic costs ultimately fueled rare street protests in Beijing and other cities, potentially affecting the Communist Party’s decision to quickly ease tough measures and reprioritize growth.
As part of the latest changes, China will no longer bring criminal charges against those accused of violating border quarantine regulations, five government departments said in an announcement on Saturday.
The notice said that the persons currently in custody will be released and the confiscated properties will be returned.
The transport ministry on Friday called on commuters to minimize journeys and gatherings, especially the elderly, pregnant women, young children and those with underlying conditions.
Associated Press reporters Alice Fung and Carmen Li in Hong Kong and Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report.