China has announced it will completely reopen its borders with the territories of Hong Kong and Macau, dropping COVID-19 testing requirements and daily quotas after nearly three years of closure.
The State Council’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office said on Friday that all remaining restrictions would be dropped starting from midnight on February 6, with group tours allowed to restart.
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Limited travel across the border between Hong Kong and mainland China resumed in January after Beijing abandoned the zero-COVID strategy that had split families, cut off tourism and suffocated businesses.
Hong Kong leader John Lee said on Friday that partial reopening had been “orderly, safe and smooth”.
Hong Kong has been largely sealed off for much of the past three years as its government sought to follow Beijing’s pandemic policies with mandatory quarantine of up to three weeks for arrivals, as well as intensive testing and screening.
The former British colony began to unwind some of its rules in the middle of 2022, and Lee announced that the territory would now scrap the longstanding requirement for all visitors to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Searches on Chinese travel website Qunar for round-trip air tickets between Hong Kong and the mainland increased sevenfold on Friday after China’s announcement, data from state media China Transportation News showed.
People from the mainland have long made up the vast majority of visitors to Hong Kong, with about 51 million arrivals in 2018, nearly seven times the city’s population.
The prolonged pandemic restrictions are estimated to have cost the territory about $27bn and local officials are hoping an influx of visitors will revitalise the once-vibrant tourism and retail industries.
The full opening of the borders comes a day after Lee rolled out a rebranding campaign to woo overseas tourists, pledging more than half a million free flights and “no isolation, no quarantine and no restrictions”.
Outdoor masking remains compulsory in Hong Kong, although Lee has said the policy could be scrapped once cases of flu ease.