Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

Hong Kong will start allowing visitors from China to skip the strict quarantine process required for most arrivals, a first step towards reopening the border with the mainland and reviving a flow of visitors that has long been crucial to the local economy.

The city will start a “Come2hk” travel programme on September 15 that will allow up to 2,000 non-Hong Kong residents a day from the mainland and Macau to visit the city, Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam said.

The programme would mark an opening of Hong Kong’s pandemic-era travel policies, some of the strictest in the world with mandatory hotel quarantines lasting as long as 21 days. The loosened requirements could give an added boost to the city’s economy, since mainland arrivals have long accounted for the majority of tourists and visitors to Hong Kong.

Jewellery firms including Chow Tai Fook Jewellery, Luk Fook International and Chow Sang Sang International rallied by at least 4% in the morning, while Sa Sa International gained as much as 7%.

Lam said the government will issue a press release with details of the programme. Visitors must undergo regular testing, including one before arrival that shows they have been vaccinated and produce antibodies to the virus. The programme is not reciprocal, as travellers from Hong Kong to the mainland are still required to go through quarantine. 

Hong Kong also will resume its “Return2hk” programme on Wednesday, Lam said, allowing Hong Kong residents from China to return without quarantine. The programme, which was previously open to those from the neighbouring province of Guangdong, will apply to all mainland cities except those considered medium- or high-risk. 

Strict requirements  

Throughout the pandemic, Hong Kong has kept Covid-19 cases and deaths low with a mix of strict requirements for returning residents, bans on leisure travellers and extensive local testing and contact tracing programmes. It only recently began allowing in non-residents from some countries, provided they were vaccinated and went through quarantine. 

But the city has lagged other finance hubs such as New York and London in trying to get life back to normal. Hong Kong backtracked after just a few days on an anticipated loosening of quarantine requirements in August because of the worsening regional Covid-19 situation. The city’s last local infection was August 17, Lam said.

Officials have indicated that reopening the border with China — which has a strict zero-tolerance policy for Covid-19 — is the priority over increasing travel with the rest of the world.

The continuation of travel curbs, despite the relatively safe situation within Hong Kong, have prompted rising frustration, with the European Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong warning that the city had no exit plan from a “Covid zero” strategy that aims to stamp out local cases.

“We are of the view that Hong Kong must open itself sooner rather than later or this new quarantine regime could lead many in the international community to question if they want to remain indefinitely trapped in Hong Kong when the rest of the world is moving on,” Frederik Gollob, chair of the chamber’s board of directors, wrote in an open letter to Lam in August.

Bloomberg News. More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com

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