BEIJING: Hong Kong's new health secretary said on Monday (Jul 4) he hoped the border with Shenzhen would reopen before Aug 4, a move that would mark a significant relaxation of China's strict border controls, generating divided opinions on Chinese social media.
Health Secretary Lo Chung-mau posted a blog on Hong Kong's Health Bureau website expressing hope that relatives separated by the border between Hong Kong and mainland China could reunite in time for the "Qixi" Festival, China's equivalent of Valentine's Day, to be held this year on Aug 4.
"I hope that the epidemic will be controlled and that with the joint cooperation between Hong Kong and Shenzhen, more people who need to return to the Mainland for family reunions ... can enter Shenzhen via the Shenzhen Bay Bridge," wrote Lo, whose appointment was announced by China's State Council last month.
While this is not the first time a Hong Kong official has hinted at a potential border reopening, Lo's statement comes after China halved the quarantine time for inbound travellers last week, a major easing of COVID-19 curbs that have deterred travel to China for two-and-a-half years, including from Hong Kong.
In Lo's blog post, which was only published in Chinese, he noted that despite the new quarantine time of seven days in centralised facilities, followed by three days' self-monitoring, entering mainland China from Hong Kong was still cumbersome.
Lo wrote that the demand for quarantine hotels in Shenzhen had only increased with the cutting of quarantine times. Lo also pointed out other recurring issues, such as booking a seat on the bus from Hong Kong to Shenzhen.
Lo noted that the opening of the border between Hong Kong and mainland China would depend on Hong Kong's epidemic situation and the reduction of community infections.
Hong Kong on Monday reported 1,645 local coronavirus infections, and 196 imported infections.
Lo's post generated some discussion on China's Weibo social media platform, with some users expressing opposition to the measure due to fears of imported infections and the resulting lockdowns that could trigger in mainland China.
"You can't open up so much ... the moment there is a problem it will implicate a lot of people, the transmission rate of the virus is so high right now," wrote user Ci1027.
Other Weibo users expressed hope that Lo's blog post signalled a reopening soon, while reserving skepticism that the Aug 4 deadline was feasible.
"If this actually comes true it would be the best piece of news this year," one user from neighbouring Guangdong province wrote.