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Key points: Full border reopening between mainland China and Hong Kong to resume from Monday No more quotas and pre-departure Covid-19 test for travellers; no booking is required to cross the border All border crossing points, including Lo Wu, Heung Yuen Wai-Liantang and Lok Ma Chau, will reopen Pre-departure rapid antigen tests (RAT) for travellers from Macau to Hong Kong will be dropped Vaccination requirements for overseas arrivals will be lifted RAT pre-departure tests for travellers from overseas and Taiwan will remain for now to manage risks Gradual resumption of travel for cross-border students from next Wednesday, starting with secondary school pupils and later for primary level, kindergartens and special schools Vaccination will still be the top priority, and regular jabs will be needed in the future Mainland China will fully reopen its borders with Hong Kong and Macau from Monday with all Covid-19 restrictions dropped and no quotas imposed on arrivals from either side, state and city officials have announced. The State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office on Friday said in a statement that people entering the mainland from the two special administrative regions, and with no overseas travel history in the week before departure, would no longer be required to undergo a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test to cross the border. Those who have been overseas in the past week will still need a PCR test done 48 hours before departure from Hong Kong or Macau to the mainland. Travellers will also need to declare their health status when crossing the border. Those reporting symptoms such as fever will need to undergo testing by mainland customs. People who test positive can isolate at home or in other premises, or seek medical treatment. Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu and senior officials provided more details at a press conference at 11am, a day after he launched the all-out “Hello Hong Kong” campaign to entice visitors back after three years of isolation under tough pandemic curbs. Hong Kong cross-border students return after 3-year hiatus, ahead of official date Since late last month, the city has dropped almost all Covid-19 measures including mandatory PCR tests for overseas arrivals, its vaccine pass scheme and quarantine requirements for close contacts, following similar action by the mainland. Taking it a step further, sources said, the city’s leader would announce the axing of vaccination requirements for international arrivals, but pre-flight rapid antigen tests would still be in place. Room to ease tests for cross-border travellers exists: Hong Kong ex-leader The reopening of all cross-border checkpoints on Monday means all channels for the flow of people and cargo between the city and neighbouring Guangdong and metropolitan Shenzhen are back to pre-pandemic status. With the coming relaxation, the only remaining pandemic measure for Hong Kong would be the mask mandate. Lee on Tuesday said it would remain in place, at least for now, as the risk of a winter surge in Covid-19 cases remained. Additional reporting by Danny Mok Here are live updates from the press conference: Overall risk manageable Quizzed on the rationale behind the lifting of PCR tests for travellers arriving from the mainland, who account for most of the imported cases in the past four weeks, Lee said the path to normality did not come without risks. “We have imported cases, but the overall risk is manageable,” he argued, adding that Covid-19 was now treated as an upper respiratory disease. ‘Constant improvement’ matters Health minister Lo said he agreed with Lee’s move to dismiss the need for an independent review of the government’s pandemic efforts. “We have constantly reviewed, improved and adjusted our policies, just like what other countries have done,” he said, highlighting the importance of “constant improvements” over an independent review “at a specific stage”. Lee chimed in, arguing such an approach would allow the government to make swift decisions and accurate executions that would deliver results. Lo meanwhile said centres providing PCR tests would remain, pointing to some countries still requiring visiting Hongkongers to obtain a pre-flight, negative PCR result, while workers in nursing or elderly homes also needed such services. The situation was the same for vaccination centres, he said. The government would look into its inoculation strategy, Lo added, citing Singapore’s recommendation of vaccination every six months while the United States’ mark was every year. No short-term return for high-speed rail’s long haulers Hong Kong authorities and their counterparts on the mainland needed more time to iron out details before resuming long-haul services operated by the cross-border high-speed rail link, according to transport chief Lam. The rail link is currently restricted to short-haul routes, covering locations such as Guangzhou, after a limited service resumption in mid-January. Heung Yuen Wai checkpoint dubbed ‘strategic site’ Asked if city authorities had spoken with their mainland counterparts on the advantages of opening the Heung Yuen Wai checkpoint, security minister Tang said the crossing was a “strategic site” and handled passengers and cargo travelling between Hong Kong, northern Shenzhen and the wider Guangdong province. The checkpoint was highly accessible given it admitted travellers using public and private transport, as well as pedestrians crossing via its tunnel. Attracting mainlanders Asked if there are measures targeting mainland visitors, Lee said Hong Kong remained attractive to such tourists as the city was an energetic and commercial place with various hot spots such as the Hong Kong Palace Museum, M+ museum as well as events such as the rugby Sevens and exhibitions. He said mainlanders could receive free air tickets to be handed out under the government’s new campaign to promote the city. They could also join group tours, he added, guaranteeing that the city’s various sectors, including catering and retail, were all ready. Lee said with the full reopening of the border, he also planned to visit the mainland, including Beijing and Greater Bay Area cities, to explore Hong Kong’s role in regional development and to promote scientific and cultural exchanges. Lessons to be learned Having earlier rejected calls for an independent investigation into the government’s handling of the pandemic, Lee said that “we have been doing lesson learning since the assumption of office by this government”. Authorities have been regularly reviewing anti-epidemic policies and would also continue to apply those that had proved effective, he added. “We will be summarising and regularising successful measures into guidelines and action plans,” Lee said. “We will do lesson learning as we always do.” The city leader also said he intended for the government to focus on developing the economy and moving toward post-pandemic recovery. Rapid tests to remain for public health needs Arrivals from overseas will still be required to undergo a rapid antigen test (RAT). Lee said such measures were needed for the time being for infection control and public health. “It is to protect overall public health and for the good of people,” Lee argued, adding that the government would review the measure after the city had resumed full reopening with the mainland. Authorities to review future of isolation facilities Hong Kong’s leader said he was adamant Covid-19 cases would not surge again even as the border fully reopened, expressing confidence in the government’s science-based approach toward tackling the virus. According to Lee, deputy financial secretary Michael Wong Wai-lun would lead a review of the city’s Covid-19 isolation facilities and determine their future uses. “We will see if there are any facilities that could be turned into youth hostels or be used for short-term purposes, such as youth activities or exchanges,” the chief executive said. But he conceded the sites would be high maintenance if used for long-term functions since they were built to an “emergency standard”. “There might be flooding in some spots during rainy and windy seasons and long-term use of these facilities might not be appropriate,” Lee explained. Hong Kong is fully prepared for full reopening Asked what unique advantages Hong Kong held and if the city was ready for a full reopening, Chief Executive Lee described it as a tourist and exhibition hub with a free economy. The administration was well-prepared and working hard to reopen for visitors again, he said, citing the government’s newly launched “Hello Hong Kong” campaign, which would hand out more than 500,000 free air tickets to woo visitors. “We are ready to welcome tourists,” he said. Buffer time for cross-border students Education minister Christine Choi Yuk-lin said authorities decided to only allow cross-border students to return on Wednesday as they expected the land crossings would be busy in the first two days of reopening. The government also hoped to reserve more time for pupils to renew their immigration documents. Authorities would expedite the process and also the approval of school bus services, she added. No worsening of pandemic situation Secretary for Health Lo Chung-mau said there had not been a spike in Covid infections since the first phase of border reopening on January 8. He said in the four-week period up to last Sunday, the daily number of confirmed infections in Hong Kong had dropped by 80 per cent, from more than 14,000 to around 3,000. Sewage surveillance also showed virus loads had plunged 90 per cent. “The border reopening did not worsen Hong Kong’s epidemic situation,” Lo said. He added that imported cases were also kept at bay, with those from the mainland accounting for 16 per cent. There has not been an increase of non-residents rushing to public clinics or emergency departments for treatment following the reopening, according to Lo. Public transport along border to get extra manpower Secretary for Transport and Logistics Lam Sai-hung said authorities would coordinate with public transport operators to ensure sufficient capacity and also allocate extra manpower to checkpoints for handling an expected increase in passenger numbers. Repair works were under way at the Lo Wu checkpoint, with the government to adjust traffic flow and implement crowd control measures if necessary, he added. The checkpoint at Heung Yuen Wai will be open to passengers for the first time, with private cars allowed to pass through. Shuttle bus services will also resume at the Lok Ma Chau vehicle crossing. The Transport Department will provide further details for traffic arrangements on its website on Friday. Operating hours of reopened checkpoints Secretary for Security Chris Tang Ping-Keung said the opening hours of land crossings would be the same as in pre-pandemic times. The Lo Wu crossing will open from 6.30am to midnight, Heung Yuen Wai-Liantang from 7am to 10pm while the Lok Ma Chau checkpoint will be operational 24 hours. Sha Tau Kok crossing, limited to cargo transport, will open from 7am to 10pm. Tang said from Monday, visitors heading either way would no longer be required to obtain a negative PCR result within 48 hours, unless they have been to other countries over the past seven days. He said disciplinary forces, including the Immigration Department and customs, had already deployed sufficient manpower to ensure the smooth operation of border crossings. Tang also reminded members of the public to reserve more time if they opted for the Lo Wu crossing, as there was renovation work on the mainland side. Cross-border students to resume travel next week Chief Secretary Eric Chan Kwok-ki said all travellers from Monday would no longer need to book online before crossing the border. They also can visit without taking a PCR test within 48 hours of departure, with the exception of those heading to the mainland who had visited Taiwan or other overseas locations within seven days before crossing. Chan said cross-border students would also be allowed to resume their daily travels from Wednesday. Secondary school pupils would be the first to get the go-ahead, followed by children from primary and kindergarten institutions, and those with special needs, from February 22, he added. Return of travel tours to Hong Kong Lee said the full border reopening on Monday would help boost Hong Kong’s economy. “Hong Kong will be more prosperous and businesses will be more active.” He added the mainland would resume travel tours to the city as soon as possible. The city’s leader also said the full border reopening meant he had fulfilled his election vow. All checkpoints to reopen Chief Executive Lee announced the city would fully reopen its borders with mainland China from Monday with all checkpoints to resume operations, including those at Lo Wu and Heung Yuen Wai. Cross-border travellers would no longer be subject to a quota or PCR test requirement, he added. Lee also said the vaccination requirement for non-Hong Kong residents arriving in the city would be scrapped on the same day. But arrivals from overseas would still need to present a negative RAT result for the immediate future, he said, explaining it would help manage risks stemming from the full reopening of the border with the mainland.