Hong Kong (CNN) — Thousands of travelers crossed mainland China’s borders on Sunday for joyful reunions and long-awaited journeys as authorities relaxed restrictions that had both separated families and isolated the world’s most populous country for nearly three years.
At international airports in China’s major cities, families awaited returnees at the exit gates for the first time since the early days of the pandemic — a sharp change from the longstanding Covid protocols that saw all arrivals processed by hazmat-clad workers and taken to mandatory hotel quarantine for days or weeks.
One Beijing resident surnamed Yu brought her young son to Beijing’s Capital International Airport to await the arrival of her husband returning home from his job in Spain for the first time in nearly a year.
“(Previously) we wouldn’t have been able to pick him up here today, because he would have had to be quarantined before returning home. We are excited that we can see him today,” said Yu, moments before her husband walked out of the arrivals to scoop up their son into his arms.
In Hong Kong, where most border checkpoints with mainland China had been shuttered since the pandemic’s early days, residents waited to welcome their loved ones at the previously shuttered Lok Ma Chau station, as the mainland also eased its boundary controls with the city.
“I’ve waited for this so long,” said newlywed Felicia Feng in Hong Kong, who hadn’t seen her husband since they were married in the mainland a few months earlier.
“This is his first time to Hong Kong … I have a full list of food and the places that we want to go,” she said, adding that even though her hometown in mainland China is not far from Hong Kong, she had also been limited in how often she could go back to see her family during the pandemic.
“This creates a lot of difficulties for my life, but now it seems that everything starts to become better,” she said.
The Hong Kong government said up to 60,000 people a day would be allowed to cross the border between the city and mainland China in both directions, and on Sunday tens of thousands of people did just that, it added.
Passengers are seen in the arrivals area for international flights at the Capital International Airport in Beijing on January 8, 2023.