Chinese travelers rush to take advantage of reopening | lifestyle

BEIJING (AP) — After two years of separation from his wife in mainland China, Hong Kong resident Cheung Seng-bun made sure he was among the first to cross the border after border crossings reopened Sunday.

The ability of residents of the semi-autonomous southern Chinese city to cross the border is one of the most visible signs of China’s easing of border restrictions, with travelers arriving from abroad also no longer having to undergo quarantine.

“I’m in a hurry to get back to her,” Cheung, carrying a heavy suitcase, told The Associated Press as he prepared to transfer to Lok Ma Chau station.

However, travelers transiting between Hong Kong and mainland China are still required to show a negative test for COVID-19 taken within the last 48 hours – a measure China protested when other countries imposed it.

Hong Kong has been hit hard by the virus, and its land and sea border crossings with the mainland have been largely closed for nearly three years. Despite the risk of new infections, the reopening, which will allow tens of thousands of people to pass through each day, is expected to provide a much-needed boost to Hong Kong’s tourism and retail sectors.

However, China’s borders remain largely impenetrable, with only a fraction of previous international flights arriving at major airports. That number is now expected to rise, with Beijing’s main airport preparing to reopen arrivals halls that have been quiet for most of the past three years.

China is now facing a surge in cases and hospitalizations in major cities and is preparing for further spread to less developed areas with the start of tourism for the Lunar New Year due to begin in the coming days. While international flights are still being reduced, authorities expect domestic rail and air travel to double from the same period last year, bringing the total numbers closer to those of the 2019 holiday season before the pandemic hit.

China has said testing requirements imposed on its passengers by foreign governments — most recently Germany and Sweden — are not scientifically based and has threatened unspecified countermeasures.

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

Authorities say they can no longer provide a full picture of the state of the latest outbreak since the government ended mandatory testing and allowed people with mild symptoms to self-test and recover at home.

Government spokesmen said the situation was under control and rejected accusations by the World Health Organization and others that it was not being transparent about the number of cases and deaths or providing other crucial information about the nature of the current epidemic that could have led to it. new variants.

Despite those claims, the Health Commission on Saturday issued regulations for increased monitoring of viral mutations, including testing of municipal wastewater. The lengthy rules called for increased data collection from hospitals and local government health departments and for intensified checks for “pneumonia of unknown cause”.

Criticism has largely focused on heavy-handed enforcement of the regulations, including indefinite travel restrictions that have left people locked in their homes for weeks, sometimes sealed inside without adequate food or medical care.

Anger has also been vented by demanding that anyone who has potentially tested positive or been in contact with such a person be referred for observation at a field hospital where overcrowding, poor food and sanitation are commonly reported.

The social and economic costs eventually sparked rare street protests in Beijing and other cities, possibly influencing the Communist Party’s decision to quickly ease the strictest measures and re-prioritize growth.

In the latest changes, China will also no longer file criminal charges against people accused of violating border quarantine regulations, according to an announcement by five government ministries on Saturday.

Those currently in custody will be released and the seized property will be returned, the notice said.

The Department of Transportation on Friday urged travelers to limit trips and gatherings, especially for the elderly, pregnant women, young children and those with medical conditions.

Associated Press reporters Raf Wober, Alice Fung and Karmen Li contributed to this report from Hong Kong.

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