China’s cross-border travel hits 3-year high as Hong Kong and Macau checkpoints open fully

Sylvie Zhuang

Mainland Chinese border crossings hit a three-year high on Monday, as Covid-19 restrictions were fully lifted for travellers from Hong Kong and Macau.

As many as 676,000 cross-border trips were made on February 6, official data showed, an uptick of nearly 33 per cent from the previous day’s total.

The total also beat the previous record for single-day travel since quarantine-free visits to mainland China were resumed earlier this year, after nearly three years of strict border controls under Beijing’s “zero-Covid” policy.

However, it was still just over a third of the average daily cross-border travel volume until the pandemic hit in early 2020.

Monday’s figures, released by the National Immigration Administration, came as mainland China fully opened its Hong Kong and Macau borders – scrapping the daily quotas and PCR test requirements in place since its first post-Covid border reopening on January 8.

Only those who had been overseas or in Taiwan seven days before entering the mainland now need to present negative test results to cross the border.

More than 190,000 travellers had crossed the Hong Kong-mainland China land border by 8pm on Monday, according to the city’s Immigration Department.

Land borders with Hong Kong and Macau accounted for 84 per cent of Monday’s total, a 39 per cent increase over Sunday. This came as all land checkpoints with Hong Kong – including the major Lo Wu and Lok Ma Chau crossings – reopened fully after remaining largely closed since early 2020.

Though travel requirements have been streamlined, health declarations on the WeChat social media platform and a designated government website are still required, sparking complaints of making the process cumbersome, and being particularly unfriendly towards the elderly or travellers in a rush.

Also, travellers from other countries must still present negative Covid-19 results before being allowed to cross into mainland China.

Outbound travel, meanwhile, has received a boost, with some agencies allowed to resume group tours as of Monday.

Of 20 overseas destinations designated for group travel by tourism regulators in the latest phase of post-Covid opening up, 10 are in the Asia-Pacific – including Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore and Laos.

Others on the list include the United Arab Emirates, New Zealand, Egypt, Kenya, South Africa, Russia, Switzerland, Hungary, Cuba and Argentina.

Senior Thai government officials and Chinese diplomats were at a Bangkok airport on Monday morning to receive the first two groups of about 20 tourists each from Guangzhou province.

And on Tuesday, a Chinese travel group was greeted with gifts and ceremonial performances as it arrived at Phnom Penh airport, with Cambodia expecting to welcome up to 1 million tourists from China this year.

The United States and Canada, however, are not on the list of 20. Also absent are Japan and South Korea – both popular destinations for short-haul Chinese tourists during the pre-pandemic days.

Both Tokyo and Seoul had imposed visa restrictions on Chinese visitors over pandemic concerns, after cases in mainland China surged following the abrupt lifting of its zero-Covid policy in December.

In response, Beijing had taken retaliatory measures on issuing visas to Japanese and Korean citizens.

On January 22, Japan announced that visa services in mainland China had returned to normal, indicating an easing of its travel curbs. The following week, China resumed issuing visas to Japanese residents. But travellers between the two countries are still reporting visa delays.

South Korea has not announced any changes to its visa policy for Chinese travellers.