HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) – Hong Kong’s border with mainland China will not fully reopen before next month’s vote on the local legislature, the city’s leader said, as officials from both sides work to restore economically crucial ties.
“I’m afraid that border travel with the mainland will not go back to a relatively normal level on or before Dec 19,” Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said at a regular briefing on Tuesday (Nov 23).
Dec 19 is also election day for the city’s Legislative Council.
Mrs Lam said officials from both sides would meet in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen on Thursday to continue their talks on quarantine-free travel between the finance hub and the mainland.
A delegation of Chinese health experts is currently in Hong Kong to review the city’s Covid-19 measures ahead of the resumption of quarantine-free travel.
Both China and Hong Kong impose tight restrictions on inbound travellers at the moment, as they enforce a Covid-19-zero strategy of eliminating the coronavirus within their borders.
In Hong Kong, while such measures have kept daily virus cases low, they have frustrated many businesses and residents who want to travel freely for work and leisure.
Some families with members on both sides of the China border have been kept apart during the pandemic, while some companies have warned that the curbs are threatening the city’s reputation as an international financial hub.
Mrs Lam has stressed that reopening the mainland border is more important to business than reviving international links, but on Tuesday she listed that goal as something on the city’s to-do list.
“Apart from opening the borders with the mainland, of course, we have to forge favourable conditions to improve our connection between Hong Kong and other parts of the world, so we need to work harder,” she said, urging more people to get vaccinated.
The government has delayed its Legislative Council election for more than a year, citing Covid-19 restrictions.
During the delay, the city’s electoral system has been overhauled by Beijing to give the government veto over any candidate, and much of the formal opposition has been jailed under a China-imposed national security law.
Pro-democracy opposition politicians who are not in jail, and have not fled the city, have largely decided not to take part.
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