Hong Kong has been holding talks to resume quarantine-free travel to and from mainland China in a “gradual and orderly manner,” with media reports saying the full reopening could start as early as next month.
The development was announced separately by the Hong Kong government and Beijing’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO) on Thursday evening.
Medical experts and local and central government officials discussed plans earlier this week to resume quarantine-travel across the border.
“The HKSAR Government expressed gratitude to the Central Government for its support and care to the anti-epidemic work of HKSAR all along,” a government statement read.
The HKMAO said the two sides reached “significant consensus” during discussions.
“It can be said that the two sides are meeting each other halfway, and the work of resuming ‘customs clearance’ between the two places is proceeding in an orderly manner,” the HKMAO statement added.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam has said opening the border with mainland China was a higher priority than opening Hong Kong up internationally. Asked whether the mainland border would reopen by year-end, the South China Morning Post quoted her as saying: “I hope very much so. But I just can’t promise it. We are still in discussion.”
The government also vowed to continue strict pandemic prevention measures so as not to jeopardise Beijing’s efforts to curb the spread of the virus.
“The HKSAR Government will also continue to strengthen and put forward various anti-epidemic measures in accordance with the principle of joint prevention and control, in order to ensure that resumption of quarantine-free travel would not impose additional risk to the anti-epidemic work in the Mainland,” its statement said.
On Monday, the city further tightened its regulations for travellers from outside China, scrapping quarantine exemptions for most diplomats and for top business executives. It came despite Hong Kong maintaining a low level of mostly imported infections for almost six months. Infections have remained in the single-digits since August.
Hong Kong maintains some of the world’s toughest Covid-19 travel restrictions, with mandatory hotel quarantine of up to 21 days for arrivals from high-risk countries including the US and UK. The measures have been criticised by international business groups, which warn it threatens the city’s position as an international financial centre.
China is experiencing a new outbreak of Covid-19 infections. On Tuesday, authorities urged citizens to “stock up” on daily necessities as it adopts tighter restrictions to contain the spread of the virus.