Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu speaks at a Tuesday media briefing. (ANDY CHONG / CHINA DAILY)
Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu said on Tuesday that he is confident of a full boundary reopening with the Chinese mainland “very soon”, as the city gears up to make a comeback by launching a major global publicity campaign.
Speaking before an Executive Council meeting, Lee said the government’s goal this year was to lead Hong Kong out of the coronavirus pandemic, focus on economic development and comprehensively promote Hong Kong to the mainland and the rest of the world.
Hong Kong resumed quarantine-free travel with the mainland on Jan 8. As of Monday, Lee said, about 700,000 people had traveled to the mainland while about 600,000 people have visited Hong Kong.
As the initial phase of the quarantine-free travel resumption has run orderly and smoothly, Lee said he’s confident to work with authorities on the mainland to return cross-boundary travel between Hong Kong and the mainland to pre-COVID levels very soon, including scrapping the mandatory COVID-19 test requirement and daily quota limits for travelers.
According to Lee, more land checkpoints will resume operations to boost the flow of cross-boundary travelers.
In addition, Lee said Hong Kong is considering lifting the COVID-19 vaccine requirement and the rapid antigen test required for incoming visitors from overseas.
In the meantime, Lee said the special administrative region government will hold a launch ceremony on Thursday for a series of publicity campaigns, named “Hello Hong Kong”, to promote the city both overseas and on the mainland.
Lee on Saturday will lead a delegation to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and introduce Hong Kong’s strategic advantages and business opportunities to political and business leaders in the Middle East.
The delegation will include senior government officials and more than 30 representatives of various industries to promote trade, investment and cultural links between the HKSAR and the Middle East.
Lee noted the visit to the Middle East is also a reinforcement of the policy of President Xi Jinping in his visit to Saudi Arabia in December, when he made his policy speech about how to capitalize on the Belt and Road Initiative.
Hong Kong can help different countries make use of the opportunities that it can offer, while the city can also make use of the opportunity to develop its own economy and increase its competitiveness, Lee added.
The government will organize business trips to the mainland and overseas to facilitate trade and cultural exchanges, he added.
On Monday, the city stopped issuing quarantine orders for COVID-19 patients, signifying a big stride toward social normalcy. Lee said he will seriously consider lifting the mask requirement, which is the last major COVID-19 curb in place in Hong Kong. He said the mask mandate is here to stay until the end of winter influenza in a bid to protect the public from the health risks.
Jeffery Lam Kin-fung, a lawmaker representing the commercial sector, said Hong Kong and the mainland are ready to scrap the COVID-19 test requirement for cross-boundary travelers.
Lam expects that full-scale quota-free cross-boundary travel with the mainland will arrive by Feb 5 at the soonest. Lam was also in favor of removing rapid antigen tests and vaccine requirements for overseas incoming visitors, saying it is important to get the message out that Hong Kong is back to normal so that investors can regain their faith in the city and Hong Kong can regain its appeal to talent and capital.
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