Record 2.5 m people leave territory for New Year

A RECORD 2.5 million people will be away from Hongkong during the Lunar New Year period.

Hundreds of thousands of people have left by air, land and sea every day over the past week and more will be departing in the coming days.

Most travellers are heading to the mainland for reunions with families and friends.

Immigration officials estimated that the bulk of the 2.5 million holidaymakers were China-bound, crossing the border at Lowu. Another 80,000 are taking overseas trips, leaving from Kai Tak Airport.

This year's total is more than 50 per cent higher than last year, when fewer than 1.6 million crossed the border and about 50,000 left by air.

The Immigration Department will deploy an extra 60 staff at Lowu. A total of 353 officers will be on duty and all leave has been temporarily cancelled.

The number of people leaving by ferry is also expected to exceed last year's figure of 206,693.

The Post spoke to some families at the China Hongkong Ferry Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui.

The Leung family said they were returning to Nanhai, in Guangdong province, to spend a traditional Lunar New Year in their village, as they have done every year.

The annual homecoming offensive begins in November when family members take turns to queue for ferry tickets.

''It took us two days and two nights this year,'' said Ms Nancy Leung, 22.

Family members carried nylon bags filled with presents for friends and relatives.

''Mainly, it's old clothes - they are very poor in Nanhai still. But there are also sweets and biscuits,'' said Grandma Leung.

The Chan family said economic developments in China meant their shopping list of goods to take back was much smaller. ''They can get everything,'' said Mrs Chan.

The Chans go back to their native Shantou every few years to see their relatives but they admitted they preferred spending their vacation time in Hongkong.

In Hongkong, police have urged people to use public transport over the holidays.

The KCRC will be operating extra trains between Kowloon and Tai Wai in anticipation of extra visitors to the Che Kung temple. Its services to Lowu will also be strengthened.

Minimum fares will be charged on the MTR today. The fare revenue generated during the extended operation period will be donated to the Hongkong Community Chest. Extra overnight services will run until 6 am tomorrow.

Kowloon Motor Bus Company services, and Hongkong Ferries services from Central to Cheung Chau, Mui Wo, Peng Chau and Yung Shue Wan, will also be extended.

Some Star Ferry services will be temporarily suspended during the fireworks display on Sunday.