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Beijing has approved a “gradual and orderly” reopening, Hong Kong leader John Lee said


The border fence and the Ng Tun River separate Hong Kong from the mainland metropolis of Shenzhen (right). (AFP file photo)

Hong Kong plans to reopen its border with China by mid-January, the city’s leader, John Lee, announced on Saturday after returning from meetings in Beijing.

The border has been virtually closed for nearly three years while China implemented a zero-covid strategy of emergency lockdowns, travel restrictions and mass testing that hit the world’s second-largest economy.

After dramatically changing its epidemic policy last month, Beijing is grappling with a surge in coronavirus infections across the country, with many hospitals and morgues overflowing.

Despite the rise in cases, Lee said the border between the semi-autonomous business center and the rest of the country will return to its pre-pandemic state.

“The central government has agreed to the full opening of the border gradually and regularly,” he told reporters at the airport.

Local governments on both sides of the border will submit the proposal to Beijing for approval, which is “scheduled to be implemented by mid-January,” he added.

Li met with President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang during a four-day visit to Beijing this week, his first since taking over as the territory’s chief executive in July.

Xi said he “fully approved” the work of the Lee administration and praised him for safeguarding national security and revitalizing the local economy.

Hong Kong has pursued a lighter version of Beijing’s zero-Covid strategy and has also recently begun to lift restrictions in an effort to restart its international business ties.

Currently, Hong Kong residents traveling to China can only do so through a few border checkpoints and are subject to mandatory quarantine.

Expecting the reopening to boost cross-border travel, Hong Kong and mainland authorities will discuss a daily quota, Lee said.

Immigration, customs and police officers have already been ordered to return to their border posts after Christmas, local media reported.

Li’s team will hold talks with the governments of Shenzhen and Guangdong to formulate a plan to reopen the borders, and will form a task force in the city to focus on the issue. The panel will then report to the central government, he said.

According to economists at Goldman Sachs, Hong Kong could see its gross domestic product grow by about 7.6% as a result of China’s reopening. The local economy is believed to have contracted this year for the third time in four years. The city hosted nearly 44 million arrivals from mainland China in 2019.

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