Travelers rush to take advantage of China reopening

BEIJING (AP) – After two years of separation from her husband in mainland China, Hong Kong resident Cheung Seng-bun made sure to be among the first in line after crossing points reopened. border on Sunday.

The ability of residents of the semi-autonomous southern Chinese city to cross is one of the most visible signs of China’s easing of border restrictions, with travelers arriving from abroad not having to do no more confinement.

“I will hurry back to him,” Cheung, carrying a heavy suitcase, told The Associated Press as he prepared to cross at Lok Ma Chau station.

Travelers crossing between Hong Kong and mainland China, however, must show a negative COVID-19 test taken within the last 48 hours – a requirement China has considered when imposed by other countries.

Hong Kong has been hit hard by the virus, with land and sea border checkpoints with the mainland closed for nearly three years. Despite the risk of a new pandemic, the reopening that will allow tens of thousands of people who previously made online reservations to cross daily is expected to provide a much-needed boost to the tourism and trade sectors. in Hong Kong.

In a visit to the railway station on Sunday morning, Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee said that the side will continue to expand the number of crossings from the current seven to 14.

“The goal is to return as soon as possible to the normal life before the pandemic,” Lee told reporters. “We want to restore cooperation between the two parties.”

The Communist Party’s Global Times newspaper quoted Tan Luming, an official at the Shenzhen port on the Hong Kong border, as saying that about 200 passengers are expected to take the ship to Hong Kong, while another 700 were originally supposed to go the other way. re-opening day. Tan said the number of passengers will continue to increase in the coming days.

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“I stayed up all night and woke up at 4:00 a.m. because I was so excited to go back to the mainland to see my 80-year-old mother,” said a Hong Kong woman who was identified only as surnamed Cheung. arrived in Shenzhen, where he was presented with “roses and a health kit”, the newspaper said.

Hong Kong media reports said that around 300,000 bookings have been made from the city to mainland China.

Limited ferry service from China’s Fujian province to the Taiwanese-controlled island of Kinmen off China’s coast has also been restored.

The border crossing with Russia in Suifenhe in the northern province of Heilongjiang also resumed normal operations, just as the capital city of Harbin’s snow festival opened, a tourist attraction. big land.

China’s border remains sealed, however, and only a small fraction of international flights previously arrive at major airports.

Beijing’s main international airport expected eight flights from overseas, according to the airport. Shanghai, China’s largest city, received its first international flight under the new policy at 6:30 a.m. and only a few international flights followed.

That number is now expected to rise, with demand for overseas flight bookings overwhelming online travel services ahead of the New Year rush later this month. Capital International is preparing to re-open the arrivals hall which has been silent for the past three years.

At the same time, Shanghai announced that it will start issuing regular passports to Chinese people for foreign travel and family visits, as well as renewing and extending visas for foreigners. These restrictions have had the worst impact on foreign businessmen and students in Asia’s major financial centers.

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China is now facing a surge in cases and hospitals in major cities and prepare for further expansion in less developed areas with the start of China’s biggest holiday of the year, which will begin in the coming days.

Officials said they expect rail and air travel to double from the same period last year, bringing the overall numbers close to the same period last year. 2019 holiday before the epidemic.

Meanwhile, controversy continues over the testing measures imposed by foreign governments on Chinese travelers – most recently Germany and Sweden. On Saturday, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock urged citizens to avoid “unnecessary” trips to China, noting the rise in coronavirus cases in the country and saying that “too many ” China’s health system.

German regulations allow spot checks on arrival and Germany, like other European countries, will test sewage from planes for new strains of the virus. The measures come into force at midnight on Monday and are expected to last until April 7.

Apparently worried about its reputation, China has said the test measures are not based on science and has threatened unspecified opposition.

Chinese health authorities publish daily numbers of new cases, severe cases and deaths, but these numbers include only officially confirmed cases and use a narrow definition of COVID-19 deaths.

Officials say that since the government ended mandatory testing and allowed people with mild symptoms to self-test and recover at home, they cannot provide a complete picture of the latest outbreak. no more.

A government spokesman said the situation was under control and denied allegations from the World Health Organization and others that it was not being transparent about the number of cases and deaths or providing important information. other about the current state of the epidemic that may lead to an outbreak. the new variants.

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Despite such statements, the Health Commission on Saturday issued regulations to strengthen the control of the virus, including the testing of urban wastewater. The long rule calls for data collection from hospitals and local health departments and more monitoring of “pneumonia of unknown cause.”

Criticism has focused largely on the implementation of onerous rules, including open-ended travel restrictions that see people confined to their homes for weeks, sometimes sealed inside without adequate food or medical care.

There has also been outrage over demands that anyone who may have tested positive or been in contact with such a person be quarantined for observation at field hospitals, which are often cited as overcrowded,​​​​ bad food and hygiene.

The social and economic costs of the latter have led to rare street protests in Beijing and other cities, possibly influencing the Communist Party’s decision to quickly ease strict measures and restore order. growth is a priority.

In the latest change, China will also no longer bring criminal charges against people accused of violating border detention rules, according to a statement issued by five government agencies on Saturday.

Those currently detained will be released and confiscated property will be returned, the announcement said.

The Minister of Transport on Friday called on passengers to reduce travel and gatherings, especially if there are elderly people, pregnant women, small children and those with illnesses.


Associated Press reporters Alice Fung and Karmen Li in Hong Kong and Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report.


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