HONG KONG/BEIJING, Jan 15 (Reuters) – China on Sunday resumed high-speed rail services between Hong Kong and the mainland for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, while rolling back travel restrictions after Beijing lifted the quarantine for arrivals a week earlier.
The reopening comes amid a massive wave of infections across the country and a day later the authorities said Nearly 60,000 people with COVID had died in hospital, following last month’s abrupt U-turn in the “zero COVID” policy in the wake of historic protests.
Despite the infections, some passengers expressed excitement and relief that they could more easily return to their hometowns in time for the upcoming Lunar New Year.
“The resumption of high-speed rail has made it very convenient for us and brought us closer to home,” said Mang Lee, 33, who was among dozens going through border checks at Hong Kong’s West Kowloon station. before boarding the trains.
“For the past three years, due to the pandemic, it has not been easy to enter China by any means,” added Mang, originally from the southern city of Guangzhou. “I haven’t been able to go home for a long time.”
EASIER LUNAR NEW YEAR TRAVEL
An increase in travel ahead of the holiday celebrations that will begin on January 1. January 21, when hundreds of millions of people return home from cities to small towns and rural areas, has fueled concerns about more infections.
Saturday’s updated death toll was a big increase from previous figures, following global criticism of coronavirus data from China. The move was welcomed by the World Health Organization, although the body asked for more detailed data.
But the figure still falls short of the predictions of international health experts, who have said China could have more than a million COVID-related deaths this year.
Operations at West Kowloon station in the world financial hub have been smooth, with about 1,400 passengers flowing as of 10 a.m., said Cheung Chi-keung, MTR Corp’s chief operating officer. (0066.HK) cross border operations.
Tickets for almost all trains were sold out on Sunday, a display at the station showed, a Reuters witness said.
The reopening will initially be for short journeys only, MTR Chairman Rex Auyeung told reporters at the station, but it was not immediately clear when long-distance journeys would resume.
In another sign of reviving transport links, Saturday visitors to the nearby Macau gambling center topped 55,000, the highest daily arrivals since the pandemic began, the government said on its website.
Mainland China contributed 44,025, with just over 10,000 from Hong Kong, it said in a notice.
The data, in line with a trend of growing number of daily visitors, promise a boost for the tourism-focused economy reeling from previous zero-COVID measures.
As many in China scramble to secure COVID-19 medicines following reports of widespread hospital shortages, Hong Kong customs last week seized 380 boxes of allegedly smuggled COVID-19 medicines worth estimated at 500,000 Hong Kong dollars ($64,000), the local government said.
The items were found in two locations, one at the international airport in an air parcel that arrived from India on January 2. 11 and another at the home of a 40-year-old man on January 14.
The man and a 34-year-old woman have been arrested as suspects, the government added in its statement on Sunday.
The COVID-19 drug Paxlovid, made by Pfizer, in particular, has seen a great demand.
($1.8092 Hong Kong dollars)
Reporting by Joyce Zhou and Donny Kwok in Hong Kong and Martin Quin Pollard and Shuyan Wang in Beijing; Edited by Clarence Fernandez
Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
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