Posted on Sat Jan 7, 2023 8:31pm EDT
BEIJING (AP) – Two years after separating from his wife in China, Hong Kong resident Cheung Sing-pun confirmed he was among the first to cross the border after crossings reopened 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 restrictions, as travelers arriving from abroad are no longer required to undergo quarantine.
“I’m hurrying back,” Cheung, who was carrying a heavy bag, told the Associated Press as he prepared to cross at Loc Ma Chau station.
However, travelers transiting between Hong Kong and mainland China must still present a negative COVID-19 test taken within the past 48 hours – a measure China protested when other countries imposed it.
Hong Kong has been hit hard by the virus, and land and sea border checkpoints with the mainland have been largely closed for nearly three years. Despite the risk of new infections, a reopening that will allow tens of thousands of people who previously made online reservations to cross each day should provide a much-needed boost to Hong Kong’s tourism and retail sectors.
During a visit to the station Sunday morning, Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee said the two sides will continue to increase the number of crossing points from seven to the current 14.
“The aim is to return to normal life before the epidemic as soon as possible,” Li told reporters. We want to return the cooperation between the two parties to the right track. »
About 200 passengers are expected to take the ferry to Hong Kong, while another 700 are expected to travel the other way, Tan Luming, an official at Shenzhen port on the border with Hong Kong, was quoted by the Communist Party newspaper Global Times as saying. Kong. Kong, it was said. reopening day. Tan said a steady increase in passenger numbers is expected in the coming days.
“I stayed up all night and got up at 4 in the morning because I was so excited to go back to the mainland to see my 80-year-old mother,” said a Hong Kong woman identified only by her last name. Upon her arrival in Shenzhen, Cheung was shown “flowers and sanitary facilities,” the newspaper reported.
Limited ferry service between China’s Fujian Province and Taiwan-controlled Kinmen Island off the coast of China has also been restored.
The border crossing with Russia at Suifenhe in the remote northern province of Heilongjiang has also resumed normal operations, just in time for the opening of the Ice Festival in the capital, Harbin, a major tourist attraction.
However, China’s borders remain largely closed, with only a fraction of the previous number of international flights arriving at major airports.
The airport said the main international airport in the capital, Beijing, is planning eight flights from abroad on Sunday. China’s largest city, Shanghai, received its first international flight under the new policy at 6:30 am, leaving only a handful of other international flights remaining.
That number is now expected to rise as booking requests for overseas trips overwhelm some online travel services ahead of the Lunar New Year travel rush later this month. Capital International is preparing to reopen arrivals lounges that have been quiet for most of the past three years.
The Chinese fait maintenant face a une augmentation of the nombre de cas et d’hospitalisations dans les grandes villes et se prepare a une nouvelle propagation dans les regions moins developpées avec le début des vacances les plus importantes de l’annee in Chine, which devraient commenced In the coming days.
Authorities say they expect domestic rail and air travel to double compared to the same period last year, returning overall numbers to those for the pre-pandemic holiday period of 2019.
Meanwhile, controversy continues over testing requirements imposed on Chinese travelers by foreign governments – most recently Germany and Sweden. China claims this is not scientifically based and has threatened unspecified countermeasures.
Chinese health authorities publish a daily tally of new cases, severe cases, and deaths, but these figures include only officially confirmed cases and use a very narrow definition of COVID-19 deaths.
Authorities say that since the government ended mandatory testing and allowed people with mild symptoms to test themselves and recover at home, they can no longer provide a complete picture of the state of the latest outbreak.
Government spokespeople said the situation was under control and rejected accusations by the World Health Organization and others of not being transparent about the number of cases and deaths or providing more important information about the nature of the current outbreak that could lead to the outbreak. new variants.
Despite those assurances, the Health Commission on Saturday issued regulations to strengthen viral mutation surveillance, including urban sewage testing. The lengthy rules included increased data collection from hospitals and local government health departments and extensive testing for “pneumonia of unknown cause.”
Critics have largely focused on strict enforcement of the regulations, including indefinite travel restrictions that have left people confined to their homes for weeks, sometimes locked indoors without adequate food or medical care.
Anger has also been expressed over the requirement that anyone who is likely to test positive or have been in contact with such a person be placed under observation in a field hospital, where overcrowding and poor food and hygiene are common.
The social and economic costs eventually led to rare street protests in Beijing and other cities, which could influence the Communist Party’s decision to quickly ease tougher measures and redefine growth.
Under the latest changes, China will no longer file criminal charges against people accused of violating border quarantine rules, according to a notice issued Saturday by five government departments.
The notice stated that those currently detained would be released and the confiscated assets returned.
On Friday, the Ministry of Transport called on travelers to limit travel and gatherings, especially if they are the elderly, pregnant women, young children, and people with underlying diseases.
Associated Press reporters Rafe Weber, Alice Fong and Carmen Lee contributed reporting from Hong Kong.