China to open border with Hong Kong next week

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China will begin normalizing travel between the mainland and Hong Kong from Sunday, Beijing announced Thursday, easing painful pandemic restrictions that have kept the border mostly sealed for almost three years.

All but three of Hong Kong’s 12 crossings with the mainland have been closed since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020.

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Both Hong Kong and China stuck to zero-COVID-19 policies in which strict travel curbs and mandatory quarantine rules caused arrivals to plummet.

The measures kept families separated, cut-off tourism and severed most business travel, with Hong Kong hit especially hard and ending 2022 in a deep recession.

China U-turned on its zero-COVID-19 strategy last month, abruptly lifting restrictions that had torpedoed the economy and sparked nationwide protests.

On Thursday China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office announced that travel will “gradually and orderly resume” from Sunday -- the same day China scraps mandatory quarantine for overseas arrivals.

However, the measures are not a return to a full reopening.

People travelling to the mainland from Hong Kong will still be required to present a negative nucleic acid test result taken 48 hours before departure -- a requirement Beijing has criticized other countries for adopting this week as the mainland's infections have surged.

Immigration authorities will start resuming visas for mainlanders to travel to Hong Kong and Macau “according to the epidemic situation and service capacities” in the two locales, the announcement said.

The statement did not say how many checkpoints would be reopened, or whether there would be a daily quota on border crossings.

Hong Kong’s government will hold a press conference later on Thursday.Local Hong Kong media have reported in recent days that the first phase of the border reopening will see a daily quota of 50,000-100,000 at border crossings.

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