Hong Kong-China Border Reopens as City Looks to Rebuild Economy

(Bloomberg) — The border between Hong Kong and China fully reopened Monday, part of the city’s campaign to rebuild its battered economy and tourism industry after years of Covid-induced isolation. 

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Daily quotas and testing requirements were dropped and all boundary checkpoints opened, freeing visitors of some of the world’s toughest virus-related travel measures. A ban on unvaccinated travelers from anywhere in the world has also been lifted. 

The opening marks a step in Hong Kong’s bid to rebuild its reputation as a business hub connecting mainland China and the rest of the world, and comes days after Chief Executive John Lee unveiled a publicity campaign to revive the economy and welcome back visitors. Hong Kong doubled down on some of the strictest Covid restrictions in recent years even as other cities opened up, raising questions about its status as a global financial center.

Lee is working to attract new investment to the city, and has prioritized returning Hong Kong to normal life and regaining its status as a finance hub after protests in 2019, the imposition of national security laws in 2020 and the pandemic. That includes a bid to convince oil giant Saudi Aramco and its units to consider a secondary listing in Hong Kong, the South China Morning Post reported Sunday. 

While the lengthy closure had a devastating impact on the city’s economy and business, money has been flowing back into Hong Kong as investors bet on a recovery in China and the city after the nation’s pivot away from Covid Zero.  

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The local benchmark Hang Seng Index has surged almost 50% since the end of October.

Concerns about Hong Kong’s future remain despite the revival campaign: A mass trial of prominent pro-democracy figures also gets underway Monday, the city’s largest national security case to date and a test of the rule of law that has underpinned Hong Kong’s success.

Hong Kong’s Biggest Security Trial Set to Start in Test for City

At the same time, Lee has dismissed calls for an independent commission to look into the city’s handling of the pandemic. The city was forced to turn to the central government for help early last year when the rapid spread of the omicron variant caused a wave of deaths among unvaccinated elderly, resulting in one of the deadliest outbreaks globally. 

China reopened its border with Hong Kong early last month in a limited manner, and the mainland is retaining a 48-hour pre-arrival PCR test requirement for people coming from Hong Kong or Macau if they have traveled overseas in the previous seven days. 

Mainland visitors to Hong Kong could rebound to 78% of 2019 levels this year with the removal of restrictions including a daily traveler quota and mandatory Covid tests, according to Bloomberg Intelligence. 

The tourism rebound — along with visitors’ spending perks under the new HK$2 billion ($255 million) tourism campaign — stand to raise the city’s 2023 retail sales by 22%, consumer and technology analysts Catherine Lim and Trini Tan said.  

(Updates with border reopening from first paragraph.)

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