After almost two years of near-isolation, Hong Kong travelers may finally be able to travel quarantine-free to mainland China – one of the few places on earth that is hanging on to a Covid zero policy.
In recent weeks, Hong Kong’s leaders have been taking steps to meet the expectations of mainland officials and iron out differences in their pandemic-control measures to start limited visits as soon as December.
But any change to Hong Kong’s quarantine requirements for travelers from other destinations is likely at least half a year away.
1. What’s the situation currently?
Hong Kong allows people coming from the mainland and Macau to enter quarantine free under programs called Come2hk and Return2hk. For returning residents, the daily quota is 5,000, while the limit for other visitors is set at 2,000.
The programs aren’t applicable to some mainland Chinese cities deemed as riskier due to virus flareups.
But the city hasn’t received reciprocal arrangements from the mainland or Macau. (Most people coming from anywhere else into Hong Kong must undergo a hotel quarantine of as long as 21 days, at their personal expense.)
2. What’s being discussed?
In November, Hong Kong and mainland China appeared to have reached the final stage of negotiations on a system for slowly reopening the border, local media including the South China Morning Post, Sing Tao Daily and Hong Kong Economic Times reported, citing interviews with the city’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam and unidentified people.
Among the reported details:
- Hong Kong travelers will first need to limit their trips to neighboring Guangdong province.
- There will be a daily quota for travelers from Hong Kong, with those visiting elderly parents, attending funerals or conducting business likely getting priority.
- Travelers need to be fully vaccinated, with a negative polymerase chain reaction-based nucleic acid test result, and may need to submit records to authorities via their government-issued LeaveHomeSafe contact-tracing app.
- A mainland-style health code system where people are classified with green, yellow and red codes may also need to be in place, with only those coded green allowed to enter the mainland.
- A “circuit breaker” system will be created to suspend the reopening in emergencies.
3. When could this happen?
A small-scale trial of the quarantine-free travel system could happen as early as December, said Michael Tien, a Hong Kong deputy to China’s National People’s Congress, in a November 3 interview.
Two days later, Lam was quoted as saying the program could be expanded by February, allowing travelers from Hong Kong to attend big events in the mainland.
However, the city likely won’t open more generally to global travel until mid-2022, Lam Ching-choi, a member of her Executive Council, said in November 8 interview.
4. What’s been done lately by Hong Kong to prepare?
The city announced an end to its quarantine exemptions for senior executives and bankers starting November 12.
Authorities have also made it mandatory for people to scan the government’s LeaveHomeSafe app when entering government buildings or municipal markets. This requisite will probably spread to more restaurants.
5. How many people may benefit?
Travelers made more than a million trips between Hong Kong and mainland China by sea and land every day before the Covid-19 pandemic – and that’s not even counting air travel.
In the last two weeks of 2019, for example, an average of 802,000 trips were made by people entering the mainland from Hong Kong via land and sea travel checkpoints daily, and about the same number the other way around, according to government data.
This article is published under license from Bloomberg Media: the original article can be viewed here