The good old days returned on Monday as the borders between Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland reopened fully after three years, with daily quotas and COVID-19 tests dropped for travelers. People on both sides jumped on the first trains to the opposite side, some for work, some for school, and some just for a bite.
Chris Lau, owner of a food company in Hong Kong, was among the first group who crossed the border and arrived in Shenzhen on Monday. He said he can't wait to visit his factories in South China's Guangdong Province.
"Even when the borders first opened in January, it was impossible for me to get a quota to come to Shenzhen. Now I just hop on, hop off the train, no need to think of quarantine, nucleic tests, nothing! The good old days are back," Lau told the Global Times.
Another Hong Kong resident, also surnamed Lau, went viral on Chinese social media. The lady, who appeared at Shenzhen's Huanggang port at Monday at midnight in flip-flops, told media that she just crossed the border to have a night snack of steamed rice noodle rolls, a traditional Cantonese dish, and would return to Hong Kong the next day, because the "border crossing is just so convenient right now."
"Despite the three-year suspension, the border entry at Luohu port is even more convenient than before. I spent less than 10 minutes on the whole process," said Edward Lau Kwok-fan, a member of the Legislative Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), who was among the first group of travelers at the port.
Cross-border secondary school students were also among the first to cross the border. "I haven't been back to Hong Kong for three years, the long-missed campus life is waiting for me," a student told Hong Kong media.
Hong Kong's Security Chief Chris Tang Ping-keun said a total of 83,000 passengers had traveled between Shenzhen and Hong Kong via border ports as of Monday at noon since the reopening.
The unlimited border crossing, coming after three years' suspension, is set to inject much-needed energy into Hong Kong's economy. The full resumption of quarantine-free cross-border travel between the HKSAR and the Chinese mainland will bring more positive and optimistic sentiment to Hong Kong's economy, Hong Kong Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po said in his official blog on Sunday, while warning that the city still needs to be cautious given its recent economic data.
Hong Kong's GDP fell 4.2 percent year-on-year in the fourth quarter of 2022 and shrank 3.5 percent for 2022 as a whole, due to the sharp deterioration in the external environment and the fifth wave of the epidemic, according to the local authority.
Chan expected a post-pandemic recovery in various official activities, tourism and other business operations, as well as a steady increase in cross-border flows of visitors and cargo.
Hong Kong's tourism lawmaker Perry Yiu Pak-leung told the Global Times on Monday that full reopening to the mainland will be a crucial step for a recovery, as before the epidemic, about 78 percent of incoming visitors were from the mainland.
Yiu said that due to limited flights, geopolitical factors and a resurgence of the epidemic, tourism in Hong Kong will recover more slowly than expected. The government also needs time to restore its capacity to welcome travelers, such as making up for a shortage of tourism employees, who left the industry during the pandemic.
The HKSAR launched a six-month campaign on Thursday, with 700,000 air tickets to be given away to boost the tourism sector starting from March. Yiu revealed that those tickets will be prioritized for potential travelers from Southeast Asian countries, and also from the mainland, especially from the Greater Bay Area.
Other industries, such as finance and technology innovation, will slowly regain steam as borders fully reopen. Those industries received less of a direct blow from the pandemic, yet the lack of face-to-face communication affected technology teams between Hong Kong and the mainland.
Also, Li Xiaobing, an expert on Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan affairs from Nankai University, told the Global Times that removal of the COVID-19 control barriers will certainly be conducive to Hong Kong's economic recovery and help the city regain its status as a shining world financial center and a bridge connecting the mainland and the world.