China, Hong Kong resume high-speed rail link after three years of COVID curbs
HONG KONG/BEIJING, Jan 15 (Reuters) – China resumed high-speed rail services between Hong Kong and the mainland on Sunday for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, as it dismantles travel restrictions after Beijing lifted its quarantine on arrivals a week ago.
The reopening comes amid a massive wave of infections across the country and a day after authorities said nearly 60,000 people with COVID had died in hospital, following last month’s sudden change to a “zero-COVID” policy in the wake of historic protests.
Despite the infections, some passengers expressed excitement and relief at the prospect of an easier return to their hometowns in time for the approaching Lunar New Year.
“The resumption of the high-speed rail has made it very convenient for us and brought us closer to home,” said Mang Lee, 33, who was among dozens passing through border checks at Hong Kong’s West Kowloon station. Kong before they boarded the trains.
“For the past three years, because of the pandemic, it has not been easy to enter China in any way,” added Mang, originally from the southern city of Guangzhou. “I haven’t been able to go home for a long time.”
NEW YEAR’S EASIER LUNAR TRAVELS
A surge in travel ahead of holiday celebrations set to begin on January 21, as hundreds of millions of people return home from cities to small towns and rural areas, has fueled concerns of more infections.
Saturday’s updated death toll was a big jump from earlier figures, following global criticism of China’s coronavirus data. The move was welcomed by the World Health Organization, although the body asked for more detailed data.
But the figure is still short of predictions by 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 global financial hub have been smooth, with a flow of about 1,400 passengers by 10 a.m., said Cheung Chi-keung, head of cross-border operations at operator MTR Corp ( 0066.HK ).
Tickets for almost all trains were sold out on Sunday, an exhibition at the station showed, a Reuters witness said.
The reopening will initially be for short trips only, MTR chairman Rex Auyeung told reporters at the station, but it was not immediately clear when long-distance trips would resume.
In another sign of reviving transport links, Saturday visitors to the nearby gambling hub of Macau topped 55,000, the highest daily arrivals since the start of the pandemic, the government said on its website.
The mainland contributed 44,025, with just over 10,000 from Hong Kong, it said in a release.
The data, in line with a trend of increasing daily visitor numbers, promises a boost to the tourism-focused economy, which is reeling from previous zero-Covid measures.
As many in China scramble to secure COVID-19 drugs after reports of widespread hospital shortages, customs in Hong Kong seized 380 boxes of suspected smuggled COVID drugs last week, worth an estimated HK$500,000 ($64,000). , the local government said.
The items were found in two locations, one at the international airport in an air package that arrived from India on January 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 Pfizer-produced COVID drug Paxlovid, in particular, has been in high 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; Editing by Clarence Fernandez
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