Hong Kong announces planned reopening of border with China as Omicron increases over Christmas

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SHANGHAI — China, grappling with a fresh wave of COVID-19 infections, took another step toward easing its pandemic-related restrictions on Saturday when Hong Kong’s leader announced it would aim to reopen its borders with the mainland by mid-January.

Speaking at a press conference on his return from Beijing, Hong Kong chief executive John Lee said authorities would work to « gradually, orderly and fully » reopen all outlets. entry between the two sides and would coordinate with the government of neighboring Shenzhen to manage the flow of people.

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At present, people wishing to enter the mainland via Hong Kong can only do so through the city’s airport or through two checkpoints – Shenzhen Bay or the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge.

Entrants to the mainland must also undergo a period of hotel quarantine before they can move freely.

Hong Kong and Beijing closed their borders in early 2020 when COVID first surfaced and they have remained closed ever since as China capped incoming travelers under its strict “zero-COVID” policy.

Beijing eased China’s zero-COVID domestic restrictions earlier this month, scrapping mandatory testing requirements and travel restrictions.

While many welcomed the easing, families and the health care system were unprepared for the resulting spike in infections. Hospitals are scrambling for beds and blood, pharmacies for medicine, and authorities are rushing to build clinics.

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Ahead of Christmas, authorities in Shanghai urged residents to stay home this weekend to curb the spread of the virus. The holiday is not traditionally celebrated in China, but it is common for young couples and some families to spend the holidays together.

Despite these warnings, an annual Christmas market held at the Bund, a shopping area, was packed with attendees.

« My friends are basically all positive and all have basically recovered, » said Liu Yang, 23, a computer scientist participating in the market.

« We wanted to enjoy Christmas, and it’s the weekend, we wanted to walk around and enjoy the air, so we came here. »

Yet the spread of Omicron is dampening the festivities for other retailers and restaurants.

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Many restaurants in Shanghai have canceled Christmas parties normally held for regulars, while hotels have capped reservations due to lack of staff, said Jacqueline Mocatta, who works in the hospitality industry.

« There are only so many customers we can accept given our workforce, with a majority of team members not feeling well at the moment, » he said. she declared.


Infections in China are likely to be over a million a day with more than 5,000 deaths a day, British health data firm Airfinity said this week, describing the estimates as a « stark contrast » to official data.

China’s national health authority on Saturday reported 4,128 daily symptomatic COVID-19 infections and no deaths for a fourth consecutive day.

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Bloomberg News reported on Friday that nearly 37 million people may have been infected with COVID in a single day last week, citing estimates from the government’s top health authority. Authorities have not commented on the report.

The emergency hotline in Taiyuan, northern Shanxi province, was receiving more than 4,000 calls a day, local media said on Saturday.

Taiyuan authorities urged residents to call the number only for medical emergencies, saying COVID advice « is not within the scope of the hotline. »

A health official in Qingdao said the port city was experiencing around 500,000 daily infections, media reported Friday. In the southern city of Dongguan, a major manufacturing hub, daily infections are reaching 250,000 to 300,000, local authorities told national media.

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The surge has put a strain on the medical sector, especially blood banks, as a lack of donors has led to dwindling supplies.

On Saturday, China’s National Health Commission said in a statement that people who have mild or ordinary symptoms of COVID-19 can safely donate blood a few days after their symptoms resolve.

In Wuhan, the central city where COVID emerged three years ago, media reported on Friday that the local blood bank had only 4,000 units, enough to last two days. The repository called on people to « roll up their sleeves and donate blood ». (Reporting by Josh Horwitz and Jing Bian in Shanghai; Additional reporting by Xihao Jiang in Shanghai; Editing by William Mallard and Philippa Fletcher)



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