China has announced that it will drop its last Covid-19 rule that required travellers to report their health status at entry and exit ports from Wednesday.

west kowloon station high speed rail border reopening
West Kowloon station on Jan. 16, 2023, the first day of high-speed rail services between Hong Kong and the mainland resuming. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

The relaxation marks the resumption of normal travel arrangements between Hong Kong and mainland China after almost four years of Covid-19 restrictions.

The General Administration of Customs said in a Chinese-language statement on Tuesday that travellers entering or exiting China would no longer need to fill in the Health Declaration Form from Wednesday.

Since the start of the pandemic in early 2020, Beijing has required all inbound and outbound travellers to fill in an online form to generate a QR code, commonly known as the “black code.”

lok ma chau border mainland
Lok Ma Chau Control Point. File Photo: GovHK.

Chinese authorities, however, said travellers should continue to “report voluntarily” to customs if they have been diagnosed with an infectious disease or have any symptoms such as fever, cough, difficulty breathing, vomiting, diarrhoea or rash.

“Any behaviour of concealment or evasion that leads to the spread of quarantine-related infectious diseases or poses a serious risk of transmission would face criminal liabilities,” the General Administration of Customs of China’s statement read.

Hong Kong pro-establishment lawmakers welcomed the relaxation. Kingsley Wong, a pro-Beijing lawmaker and chairperson of the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions, told RTHK on Tuesday that travellers felt the requirement was inconvenient.

Starry Lee.
Lawmaker Starry Lee. File photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Wong said that he had handled cases of elderly people seeking help on how to fill in the online form to obtain the QR code. There were also instances of people who failed to generate the code at checkpoints and had to return to Hong Kong or delay their trips to the mainland, he added.

Starry Lee, a pro-Beijing lawmaker and a member of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, told reporters on Tuesday that the day the rule is dropped would be a “landmark day.”

Lee added that the move would offer convenience to travellers on both sides and “deepen the connection and cooperation between mainland China and Hong Kong.”

Hong Kong-Shenzhen Border
Overseeing Shenzhen border from Hong Kong. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

China imposed strict Covid-19 restrictions during the pandemic, including frequent city-wide lockdowns, suspending the issuing of visas for foreigners and requiring inbound travellers to quarantine for weeks. Hong Kong also enacted stringent rules such as group gathering limits and a mask requirement indoors and outdoors.

In January, China lifted quarantine requirements for inbound travellers, ending almost three years of self-imposed isolation even as the country battled a surge in Covid cases.

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Irene Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press and has an interest in covering political and social change. She previously worked at Initium Media as chief editor for Hong Kong news and was a community organiser at the Society for Community Organisation serving the underprivileged. She has a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Fudan University and a master’s degree in social work from the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Irene is the recipient of two Society of Publishers in Asia (SOPA) awards and three honourable mentions for her investigative, feature and video reporting. She also received a Human Rights Press Award for multimedia reporting and an honourable mention for feature writing.