Hong Kong is aiming to reopen its border with China by mid-January, city leader John Lee announced on Saturday after returning from meetings in Beijing.
The border has been effectively shut for nearly three years while China enforced a zero-Covid strategy of snap lockdowns, travel restrictions and mass testing that battered the world’s second-largest economy.
After abruptly reversing on its pandemic policies last month, Beijing has been grappling with a surge in coronavirus infections across the country, with many hospitals and morgues overflowing.
Despite the uptick in cases, Lee said the border between the semi-autonomous business hub and the rest of the country would be restored to its pre-pandemic state.
“The central government has agreed to the full reopening of the border in a gradual and orderly manner,” he told reporters at the airport.
Local authorities on both sides of the border will present a proposal for Beijing’s approval, “intending to be implemented before mid-January”, he added.
Lee met President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang this week during a four-day trip to Beijing, his first since taking office in July.
Xi said he “fully affirmed” the work of Lee’s administration and praised him for safeguarding national security and reviving the local economy.
Hong Kong has pursued a lighter version of Beijing’s zero-Covid strategy and has also recently begun unwinding restrictions in a bid to reboot its international business ties.
Currently, Hong Kong residents travelling to China can only do so through a handful of border control points and are subject to mandatory quarantine.
Expecting the reopening to spur an increase in cross-border travel, Hong Kong and mainland authorities will consider a daily quota, Lee said.
Immigration, customs and police officers have already been ordered to return to their border posts after Christmas, according to local media.