At Lok Ma Chau station, Yuri Tan kisses her boyfriend before leaving. Like this student, hundreds of them headed north on Sunday, relieved to finally be able to cross the border between Hong Kong and mainland China without having to comply with restrictive restrictions.
“I’m going home because I don’t have to go through quarantine anymore,” the 23-year-old student told AFP, laden with luggage containing a few boxes of fever medicine for her family.
Tan is traveling to Shenzhen, just across the border from Hong Kong, from where she will take a connecting flight to her hometown of Yangzhou in eastern China. A trip that until recently would have initially meant weeks of mandatory isolation.
Beijing on Sunday lifted quarantine rules for all international travelers, ending nearly three years of isolation imposed by authorities.
On the same day, most border restrictions between mainland China and Hong Kong were also lifted. About 60,000 people are now allowed to travel daily in both directions.
Large crowds thronged the Lok Ma Chau border post heading north on Sunday morning, but those heading south into Hong Kong were noticeably rarer.
Two weeks before the Chinese New Year, many say they are leaving to reunite with their families.
– Tests before the trip –
Galen Liu, a Chinese student, says he was preparing a doctorate in Europe, which until now made any return to the country practically impossible and gave him a feeling of “helplessness”.
Two weeks ago, he flew to Hong Kong and waited for the border to reopen to reunite with his parents and sister in neighboring Guangdong province.
“I’m really happy,” Liu told AFP. “Now I can finally go home and I don’t have to take a flight. I can just cross the border by land.”
Liu took medicine for his family members, most of whom he said were recently infected with Covid-19 after the authorities’ strict “zero Covid” policy ended abruptly.
Cases have soared in the world’s most populous country, with hospitals and morgues under strain. Authorities have provided little data on the number of infections or deaths.
A housewife, who identifies herself as Dong and is returning to Hong Kong from Shenzhen, remains stoic in the face of the explosion in cases.
“It’s inevitable when restrictions are eased. People need to be able to move around, otherwise the economy can’t grow. We need to deal with the issue more calmly,” she said.
People crossing the border from Hong Kong to the mainland must bring proof of a recent negative test, a requirement that Beijing this week criticized for countries imposing a test on travelers from China.
– Commercial links –
Entrepreneur based in mainland China, Alex Zeng was among the travelers wanting to go to Hong Kong, a city which served for a long time as a commercial gateway to China before being isolated by the Covid.
The sports equipment maker plans to see an exhibition before heading overseas for much-needed meetings with customers.
“It was quite embarrassing not being able to travel and meet my clients face to face,” Zeng told AFP.
Hong Kong, whose economy is hit by recession, is eagerly awaiting the resumption of flows. Before the pandemic, mainlanders represented around three-quarters of arrivals.
Liu, 80, returns to Hong Kong to celebrate Lunar New Year with family. “I hope that the procedure can be further simplified, for example with the removal of the mandatory test result,” he breathes to AFP.
“It’s a bit complicated for an 80-year-old like me.”