China has announced it will open its border with Hong Kong on Sunday, ending three years of pandemic restrictions that have isolated the financial hub from the Chinese mainland.
Hong Kong residents travelling to the Chinese mainland will no longer have to quarantine or undergo a COVID-19 test after they arrive as part of moves to resume cross-border travel in a “gradual and orderly” way, China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office said in a statement on Thursday.
Visitors will still have to provide a negative result from a COVID test taken within 48 hours before travelling and complete a health declaration.
China will also resume issuing travel and business visas for mainland residents to travel to Hong Kong.
More than 236 million trips a year were made across the border before the pandemic, according to government data.
The moves come after Beijing said it would reopen its international borders and scrap mandatory quarantine from January 8.
The announcement is the latest step by China to unwind its controversial “zero-COVID” policy, which was credited with saving lives but inflicted gruelling social and economic costs.
Hong Kong, which followed a less stringent version of the “zero-COVID” strategy for much of the pandemic, dropped most of its restrictions in December, although masks are still mandatory in most settings.
China’s COVID infections have surged in recent weeks following the lifting of harsh restrictions such as lockdowns and mandatory quarantine. Health authorities have reported just a handful of deaths despite evidence from hospitals, morgues and crematoriums that fatalities have risen sharply across the country.
Some health experts have predicted the country could experience up to two million deaths due to the population’s lack of natural immunity and patchy vaccine coverage among the elderly.
Countries including France, India, Japan, South Korea, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States have introduced COVID tests and other measures for travellers from China amid concerns that surging cases could lead to the emergence of new and more dangerous variants.
China has criticised the measures as “unacceptable” and lacking a scientific basis.