HK residents pack entry ports into mainland for festivals despite 14-day quarantine, anticipate quarantine-free passage
Published: Dec 27, 2021 10:09 PM
People from Hong Kong arrive at the Shenzhen Bay Port on March 22, 2021. Photo: VCG

People from Hong Kong arrive at the Shenzhen Bay Port on March 22, 2021. Photo: VCG

With the approach of the New Year and the Spring Festival, the most important occasion for Chinese families' reunions, Hong Kong residents have embarked on their long-overdue journeys back to their hometowns in the Chinese mainland despite long queues at the border checkpoints and the 14-day mandatory quarantine upon entering the mainland. 

As local residents reached by the Global Times expressed the urgent need for quarantine-free passage to the mainland, experts said it could still take a while until the ongoing epidemic on both sides, now fueled by the Omicron variant, is properly brought under control, so as to ensure the opening of ports will bring minimum risk of the virus' spread.

The Shenzhen Bay Port in Shenzhen, South China's Guangdong Province, one of the major entry and exit points for people traveling between Hong Kong and the mainland, has seen a sharp surge of passenger flows since late December, with people applying for entry waiting in lines for four to six hours before they are finally cleared and dispatched to designated hotels in Shenzhen for quarantine, the Global Times learned on Monday.

Given the challenges posed by the COVID-19, people traveling from Hong Kong to the mainland are required to take 14-day mandatory quarantines at designated hotels, followed by a seven-day home quarantine and another seven days of self-health monitoring. 

A Hong Kong resident who shared his travel experience on social media platform Xiaohongshu told the Global Times on Monday that he had just arrived in Shenzhen during the weekend, and although the port management hall was packed with people, it was orderly in general, and people remained calm. 

To apply for passage to the mainland, travelers must first book a time slot and provide personal information to a website of the Shenzhen port authorities. 

"It's been very difficult to make an appointment since Friday. Today, the website was down for the whole morning, and the appointment quotas were all taken in less than 20 minutes after service was restored," the resident noted. 

Due to epidemic prevention, only two land ports are open between Hong Kong and the mainland. According to data provided by the immigration department of Hong Kong, there were about 800 to 1,200 people every day entering Shenzhen via the Shenzhen Bay Port in the past week, of whom about 700 to 1,000 were Hong Kong residents and the rest were visitors from the mainland.

The Chinese mainland and Hong Kong have discussed issues on reopening a quarantine-free border, but haven't announced a specific date.

Tam Yiu-chung, a Hong Kong-based member of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, told the Global Times in a previous interview that the resumption of quarantine-free travel is expected to begin with a daily quota of 1,000 people, and the quota will be increased gradually, depending on the epidemic prevention situation.

He added on Monday that the delayed reopening of the mainland-Hong Kong quarantine-free travel was due to the resurgence of COVID-19 cases in the mainland and the occurrence of Omicron. 

"Hong Kong has been fully prepared for the reopening," Tam said, noting that it remains unknown as to how long the reopening would be postponed.

Hong Kong reported nine new imported COVID-19 cases on Monday, and found another 14 Omicron infections from previously confirmed cases, bringing the total Omicron infections to 58.

The mainland has seen a spike in COVID-19 local cases in recent days, with Monday reporting a daily increase of 162.

Hong Kong Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee said Monday that departments on both sides have been discussing and preparing for the quarantine-free border reopening.