Hong Kong's border with the mainland has been effectively closed since February 2020 due to Covid-19. Photo: Facebook

The long-awaited resumption of quarantine-free travel, or so-called “border-reopening,” between Hong Kong and mainland China will be announced later this month, according to two pro-Beijing politicians.

The quarantine requirements for people entering mainland China from Hong Kong would probably be relaxed after the Chinese Communist Party’s 20th National Congress set to start on October 16, said Tam Yiu-chung, the sole Hong Kong representative in the standing committee of the National People’s Congress.

Hong Kong’s business community said they hoped the government would cancel the three-day health-monitoring requirements for incoming travelers as soon as possible. They said companies that had planned to reduce operations in Hong Kong would change their minds if the city further eased its Covid rules.

Since virus outbreaks were first reported in Wuhan in January 2020, Hong Kong, Macau and mainland China have all imposed strict quarantine and testing measures at their borders. In the summer of 2020, Macau had successfully resumed quarantine-free travel with the mainland as it had maintained zero infections for months.

In late 2020, a few hundred Covid cases in Hong Kong pushed back the planned “border reopening” between the city and mainland China. Hong Kong was then told by Beijing that it had to strictly follow the country’s “zero Covid” policy if it wanted to have quarantine-free travel with the mainland.

Since then, Hong Kong has been stuck in an uncomfortable middle with strict quarantine rules for international travelers but no progress in “reopening borders” with the mainland. Earlier this year, the government tried to adopt the West’s “living with the virus” strategy but was ordered by Beijing to achieve zero infections.

The sudden change in Covid policy direction exhausted Hong Kong’s medical resources and could not help the city avoid one million Covid cases and 10,000 deaths in February and March this year.

Hong Kong previously maintained one of the strictest quarantine regimes in the world. The measures now in place continue to erode business confidence. Photo: AFP via Getty Images / Bertha Wang

On September 26, Hong Kong canceled its seven-day hotel quarantine requirement but still requires incoming travelers to undergo three-day health monitoring after arrivals. During the three days, people are encouraged to stay home and avoid going to high-risk public places or restaurants.

During the week ending October 2, a total of 47,888 people departed the city from the airport while 40,427 returned. By comparison, a total of 37,476 people left the city by flights in the week ended September 25 while 33,462 arrived.

That means the net outflow of people increased 86% to 7,461 from 4,014 per week after the cancellation of hotel quarantine. Local newspapers said many Hong Kong people departed for Japan, where they could not freely visit for more than two years.

Citing an unnamed mainland contact, the NPC’s Tam Yiu-chung told media on October 1 that Hong Kong-mainland China quarantine rules would probably be eased after the CCP’s 20th National Congress.  

Lo Man-tuen, vice-chairman of the All-China Federation of Returned Overseas Chinese, wrote in an article on Wednesday that Tam’s prediction was not groundless.

Lo said: “The recent report that the Hong Kong-mainland border will ‘reopen’ after the Party Congress is not based on nothing. As I know, the central government hopes that Hong Kong can play a role in China’s plan to achieve a wider and deeper opening externally.”

He added that Beijing would take strong measures to promote Hong Kong and strengthen the cooperation between Hong Kong and different places in the world.

Macau’s Chief Executive Ho Iat-seng said if the mainland relaxed its quarantine rules for people coming from Hong Kong, Macau would follow suit. But he added that there was no timetable for the reopening.

On November 1 and 2, in a sign of Hong Kong’s reopening, the Global Financial Leaders’ Investment Summit will take place in the city. Eddie Yue, chief executive of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, said the summit will be attended by about 200 participants, including financial leaders from over 100 major institutions worldwide.

Betty Yuen, chairperson of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce (HKGCC), said she hoped that the government would cancel all remaining Covid rules earlier.

Government workers on the streets of Hong Kong. Image: Getty / NKTV Screengrab

Yuen said Hong Kong’s strong business foundation had been undermined by the Covid rules, geopolitical conflicts and changes in the global economy. She said Hong Kong had to get back to normal as soon as possible and welcome international and mainland travelers.

The HKGCC said it had interviewed its 400 members in May and found that 86% of them were highly affected by the quarantine rules while 40% of the surveyed members had reduced or planned to squeeze their operations in Hong Kong.

It said 73% of those who planned to leave would change their minds if quarantine rules were eased.

Read: Hong Kong to end hotel quarantine on Sept 26

Follow Jeff Pao on Twitter at @jeffpao3