Hong Kong sees influx of Chinese visitors as borders reopen fully
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HONG KONG (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of travellers commuted between mainland China and its special administrative region of Hong Kong on Monday, authorities said, the first time in three years that all border checkpoints were reopened fully without COVID-19 restrictions.
China announced last week that cross border travel between the mainland, Hong Kong and Macau would fully resume from Feb. 6, dropping existing quotas and scrapping a mandatory COVID test that was required before travelling.
Around 22,000 passengers used the Lo Wu station checkpoint by midday on Monday, Hong Kong's MTR Corp said in a statement. Lo Wu was one of three of Hong Kong's border checkpoints that had not yet reopened.
"I was so excited, from the time I got off the train to walk through the border checkpoint. It was like going back to the old days," said Christine Li, 35, who was travelling from Hong Kong to Shenzhen to see her family.
Outside the Shenzhen checkpoint were hundreds of red lanterns and large red banners celebrating the resumption of travel between the two cities.
Dozens of passengers stuck colourful Post-it notes on a red wall outside of the Lo Wu checkpoint.
"I am so happy that I am back to the motherland," one said, while another said, "We are free".
The reopening came after Hong Kong announced a promotion campaign dubbed "Hello Hong Kong" to lure back visitors, businesses and investors to the financial hub after more than three years of tough COVID-19 curbs. Incentives include 500,000 free flights to be distributed to travellers.
Hong Kong was largely sealed off behind closed borders for much of the past three years in a bid to ward off COVID, with mandatory quarantine of up to three weeks for people arriving as well as intensive testing and screening.
The former British closely followed China's zero-COVID policy until the middle of 2022 when it began to gradually unwind its rules.
Hong Kong dropped most of its remaining COVID rules in December, but wearing masks remains mandatory unless exercising and students must take daily rapid antigen tests.
(Reporting by Joyce Zhou and Farah Master; Editing by Jamie Freed)