China and its administrative region of Hong Kong will reopen borders to the international community, sparking concern over the impacts on the local population's health and the global economy.
The border will reopen for the first time in three years, welcoming international travelers and returning residents, without the need to quarantine. Chief Executive John Lee said at a press conference China will issue special tourism and business visas for mainland residents, gradually increase the number of flights between Hong Kong and the mainland, and scrap the limit on passenger numbers for flights from the city.
"When travelers enter the mainland, they will no longer need to undergo quarantine," Chief Executive John Lee said at a press conference.
Under a quota system, up to 60 000 people can travel from Hong Kong to China daily. However, travelers must obtain a negative Covid-19 test result within 48 hours before departure and register online to secure a quota slot.
The move marks an essential step towards fully reopening travel with the world. It accelerates the unwinding of stringent Covid rules set by Xi Jinping which battered China’s economic growth. The policy restricted entry to the country, isolated infected individuals and enforced lockdowns in areas with outbreaks.
Mr. Lee said this is a positive outcome for the economies of both countries.
"Entering the mainland via Hong Kong becomes realistic and feasible. In terms of attracting foreign investment and talents, it will bring a very positive effect.”
The revival of commercial, intellectual, and cultural contact with China has been welcomed, but concerns mount on the impacts on the international economy. Reports from The Economist suggest the reopening will cause significant disruption to the global economy.
“China’s post-Covid economic recovery will push up the price of oil, gas and other commodities, stocking inflation and forcing central banks to keep monetary policy tighter for longer.”
Reports also suggest the virus rages within the mainland, and the coming months will see widespread infection and death. The Economist reported tens of millions of people to contract the virus daily and hospitals are overwhelmed. Hong Kong residents have swamped clinics to get vaccinated, and residents fear the reopening will bring a surge of infections and overwhelming demand for mRNA vaccines that are not widely available in China. Analysts suggest around 1.5 million lives will be impacted if the virus spreads unchecked.
Failure to prepare for easing restrictions
Though the zero-Covid policy saved many lives when it was introduced, the Chinese government has failed to prepare measures including stockpiling drugs, vaccinating the elderly, and adopting robust protocols for treating patients.
"After the border opening, I expect there will be more infected people on the streets, I want to reduce my chance of getting infected,” said a Hong Kong resident surnamed Wan.
US President Joe Biden raised concern about China’s handling of its Covid-19 outbreak, hours after the World Health Organisation (WHO) said the country was under-reporting virus deaths.
"They're susceptible… when we suggest they haven't been that forthcoming," President Biden said to reporters.
WHO Emergencies Director Mike Ryan, said current numbers being published from China under-represent hospital admissions, intensive care unit patients, and deaths.
The Associated Press reports China only counts deaths from pneumonia or respiratory failure in its official Covid-19 death toll. But a Chinese health official said this is a narrow definition that limits the number of deaths being reported as the virus surges following the ease of restrictions.
The United States is one of many countries that imposed restrictions on travelers from China following the announcement to scrap its stringent Covid controls.
In most countries, guidelines stipulate that any death involving Covid-19 as a factor or contributor is counted as a Covid-related death.
As China’s borders reopen to the world after three years, different countries are imposing various restrictions in fear of the virus spreading. Tension and concern mount domestically, particularly with access to vaccinations, but the positives can be seen in terms of the potential for an economic boost for Hong Kong and China. But with this reopening, measures need to be taken to ensure adequate provision of vaccinations, medical equipment, and facilities. The international community has expressed their concern about China’s reporting of Covid-related deaths. Chinese officials will likely address these concerns in weeks to come.
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