China has restored high-speed rail service between Hong Kong and the mainland for the first time since the Covid-19 outbreak began and is also removing travel restrictions after Beijing lifted quarantine for arrivals a week earlier.
The re-opening occurs amid a large outbreak of illnesses across the country and one day after officials reported that almost 60,000 COVID patients had passed away in hospitals as a result of last month’s dramatic U-turn on the “zero-COVID” policy in the wake of historic protests.
The ability to more easily travel back to their hometowns in time for the upcoming Lunar New Year brought out exhilaration and relief in several passengers despite the diseases.
Mang Lee, 33, was one of several people going through border checks at Hong Kong’s West Kowloon station before boarding trains. “The high-speed railway’s resume has made it really comfortable for us and has taken us closer to home,” he said. The pandemic has made it difficult to enter China in any form for the past three years, said Mang, a native of the southern city of Guangzhou. For a very long period, I was unable to return home.
Concerns about an increase in infections have grown as a result of an increase in travel before the beginning of the holiday season on January 21, when hundreds of millions of people will return home from cities to small towns and rural areas. Following widespread criticism of China’s coronavirus data, Saturday’s new death toll marked a significant increase above earlier figures. The World Health Organization supported the action, notwithstanding its request for more comprehensive data.
However, the amount is still below what foreign health experts who have predicted that China could experience more than a million COVID-related deaths this year, have estimated.
According to Cheung Chi-keung, director of the operator MTR Corp.’s cross-boundary operations, operations at West Kowloon station in the international financial center have been seamless, with a flow of roughly 1,400 people by 10 a.m.
A display at the station showed that tickets for practically all trains were sold out on Sunday, according to a Reuters witness.
MTR Chairman Rex Auyeung informed reporters at the station that the reopening will initially only be for short trips; however, it was not immediately apparent when long-haul trips would restart.
The government said on its website that Saturday’s visits to the nearby gambling mecca of Macau exceeded 55,000, the greatest daily numbers since the pandemic started. This is another indication that transportation links are improving.