- The first phase of the border reopening is likely to coincide with China’s Olympic medal winners visiting the city
- Chief Executive Carrie Lam has repeatedly made the reopening a top priority, but said that cross-border students won’t be eligible for travel yet
Travellers from Hong Kong will be allowed to enter mainland China without having to undergo Covid-19 quarantine beginning the first week of December, earlier than expected, although the initial quota will be limited to only a few hundred per day.
The first phase of the border reopening, revealed by sources on Thursday, is the result of weeks of negotiations between the two sides, and is likely to coincide with China’s Olympic medallists visiting the city.
Two official sources from the mainland said the launch had originally been planned for December 17, but was brought forward to earlier in the month.
One of them said the accelerated timeline followed approval from the top ranks of China’s leadership, which helped “smoothen discussions, build consensus and speed up the implementation of necessary software and hardware”.
The insider said the arrangement would start with a daily quota limiting quarantine-free travel to “a few hundred” people. Numbers would be increased to “a few thousand” in the following months once any initial problems were addressed and a system of testing and tracking had been introduced, he added.
Hong Kong’s Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau refused to comment on the plan.
Earlier this month, Beijing insiders said a full border reopening could happen before June as part of a three-step process starting in mid-December.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has repeatedly said that opening up Hong Kong’s border with the mainland is her government’s top priority, with the city’s economy suffering from the closure of checkpoints since the start of the coronavirus.
Lam said she hoped cross-border travel would reach such a level by February that her administration could organise “some mass events”.
She said the plan would operate under a quota system, with priority given to business trips, although she said cross-border students were unlikely to be given the same precedence because of their large number.
The second mainland source said the start of the trial scheme would come at “around the same time” as a scheduled three-day visit to Hong Kong of the Tokyo Games’ mainland Olympic delegation, which is due to start on December 2.
“While the mainland Olympians’ visit is not directly related to the border opening process, we do hope their visit, as well as the pilot border opening, can bring a sense of patriotic and resilient spirit to Hong Kong people through the athletes sharing how they overcame the difficulties to win the top sports honours,” the source said.
The nation’s 88-medal haul from this year’s Games included 38 golds. The Home Affairs Bureau declined to comment on the planned visit.
A mainland Olympic delegation has visited Hong Kong following every Games since 2000.
The SCMP previously reported that a cross-border travel scheme eliminating the need for quarantine would start first with Guangdong province. Shenzhen would be the required entry point into the mainland for travellers.
Hong Kong travellers would also have to present a green health code issued by the city – indicating a low risk of Covid-19 infection – to be eligible to forego mainland quarantine, which lasts at least 14 days.
They were also expected to use a contact-tracing app allowing mainland authorities to monitor their movements.