China has reopened its borders to foreign travelers for the first time in nearly three years.
People will no longer have to quarantine upon arrival but a negative covid test – taken within the last 48 hours – will still need to be shown.
The change has led to long queues at Hong Kong’s airport as people seize the chance to finally travel to the mainland – many of them for long-awaited family reunions.
“I’m so happy, so happy, so excited. I haven’t seen my parents for many years,” Teresa Chow said at a border checkpoint between China and Hong Kong on Sunday.
Some 300,000 bookings from Hong Kong to mainland China have already been made, according to city media.
However, it could take some time for the number of international flights to approach pre-pandemic levels.
Beijing Capital Airport was expecting just eight flights from overseas on Sunday. Shanghai had its first international flight at 6:30 a.m., with a few more expected.
China has also resumed issuing passports and travel visas.
With outbound travel off the table since 2020, travel agencies have reported a surge in inquiries about vacation destinations close to China, such as Indonesia and Thailand.
Sunday’s border change is a significant moment after China cut itself off from the rest of the world as it enforced its zero COVID strategy.
Read more: Zero-COVID has absolutely hammered China
The government finally backed down after its citizens grew increasingly enraged and took to the streets in late 2022 in some of the biggest protests in years.
However, coronavirus infections in China have risen as a result, with hospitals believed to be inundated with patients.
Many Western countries, including UKhave responded in recent weeks by imposing new rules on arrivals from China, such as the need to show a negative test before flying.
Governments and the World Health Organization fear China is covering up the scale of its spike in deaths and infections – which it denies.
The reopening of borders also coincides with the start of New Year’s trips, during which people traditionally return to their hometowns to see their families.
Two billion trips are expected to be made this season, 70% of pre-COVID levels, the government has said.