Hong Kong scraps most Covid-19 rules and resumes travel with China

Latest spate of announcements set to open Hong Kong up to the world following almost three years of restrictions

January 5, the Hong Kong Government announced plans to resume normal travel between Hong Kong and Mainland China in phases beginning on January 8. According to the announcement, the daily transportation capacity through Hong Kong International Airport, the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge (HKZMB), Hong Kong-Macau Ferry Terminal and China Ferry Terminal is expected to be around 10,000 passengers.

Furthermore, the Shenzhen Bay Control Point, Man Kam To Control Point and Lok Ma Chau Spur Line/Futian Control Point will resume all passenger clearance services, with a daily one-way number of 10,000 at Shenzhen Bay, 5,000 at Man Kam To, and 35,000 at Lok Ma Chau Spur Line/Futian.

China recently announced plans to emerge from its three-year period of self-imposed global isolation when it announced that travellers coming in do not need to quarantine and no tests upon arrival. Additionally, the Chinese government declared that Hong Kong travel permits will be issued again and express checkpoints along the border will be reopened.

To achieve resumption of normal travel in an orderly manner, the Hong Kong Government has launched an online booking system that requires Hong Kong residents and foreign visitors to make bookings before they travel to the Mainland. Similarly, a new online booking system has been launched to facilitate the entry of Mainland residents to Hong Kong, though Mainland residents are not required to make any booking for their return. Meanwhile, Hong Kong residents and foreign visitors returning to Hong Kong from the Mainland are also exempt from this requirement.

In addition, all inbound travellers to Hong Kong and the Mainland will have to present a negative result for a self-paid COVID-19 nucleic acid test within 48 hours prior to the scheduled flight departure time or the time of arrival at different boundary control points. Results of free community tests shown in mobile phone SMS messages will not be accepted for cross-boundary and outbound travel.

Additionally, to cope with increased demand for tests at the more than 80 community testing centres (CTCs) and community testing stations (CTSs), the available time slots open for online booking will be increased from the next two weeks to the next four weeks. The government estimates that it will have the capability for 100,000 self-paid tests per day at the initial stage of the resumption of normal travel.

Those who have used the self-paid testing service can access their nucleic acid testing record electronically from the COVID-19 Electronic Testing Record System. This record can be presented in either electronic or paper form or be screen captured for verification at the border checkpoints.

Cross-boundary ferry services between Hong Kong and Macau will be resumed gradually, with 10 trips per day. Meanwhile, existing cross-boundary bus services will be strengthened depending on the demand.

For those entering Hong Kong from Macau, they will have to conduct a rapid antigen test within 24 hours or undergo a nucleic acid test within 48 hours (those aged three or above on date of arrival). If they have stayed in the mainland on the day of, or in the seven days prior to arrival in Hong Kong, they will be required to undergo a nucleic test within 48 hours before the scheduled time of arrival in Hong Kong.

Prior to this announcement, the Hong Kong government had moved to remove much of its COVID-19 restrictions, removing limits on public gatherings, and no longer requiring proof of vaccination for entry to some venues. International arrivals will no longer need to take PCR tests (though it is recommended they do take rapid tests before boarding) and close contacts of Covid-positive people will not need to quarantine.  However, masks and daily rapid tests for schools remain.

These steps combined mark a shift towards opening Hong Kong back up fully, with the government expected to announce COVID as an ‘endemic disease’. The SAR also aims to attract more talent, with the aim of bringing in 100,000 top professionals by 2025 with a new portal launched in late 2022 and new two-year visas being considered for graduates from top 100 universities with at least three years’ working experience.