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Quarantine exemption for Macau residents could be a test for reopening borders for Guangdong visitors

The Guangdong government began allowing eligible Macau residents to visit nine cities in the Greater Bay Area (GBA) from 6 July. Although the tourism and gaming industries in Macau have not yet directly benefited from this latest policy, it reflects the fact that Macau and Zhuhai are testing the ability and capacity of their clearance processes on cross-border visitation between Macau and Zhuhai, which may well be part of early preparations to start allowing some visitors into Macau.

Currently, the busiest Gongbei Border needs to handle thousands of Macau residents holding Zhuhai residential cards and eligible Chinese non-resident workers.

Therefore, Guangdong Province has only allowed Macau residents who were approved for exemption from mandatory quarantine to enter Zhuhai via borders at the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge (HZMB) and Hengqin, aiming to control the passenger flow at the Gongbei Border.

Although Zhuhai provides a daily exemption quota of 3,000 Macau residents, the HZMB and Hengqin border theoretically have to deal with more than 3,000 visitors every day, because those eligible residents are allowed to travel between Zhuhai and Macau freely for seven days after gaining clearance. However, this number of visitors is much lower than the real capacity of these two borders.

I was approved for exemption from Zhuhai’s mandatory quarantine and personally crossed the HZMB borders last weekend. The entire clearance procedure was very smooth – the HZMB border between Macau and Zhuhai had already implemented a joint checkpoint arrangement whereby visitors only need to show ID cards at the same counters. All visitors must be tested and receive a negative COVID-19 result before crossing the border, and must fill in their travel histories, contact details and destination address in order to be given the necessary “green” health code in both Macau and Guangdong.

Only three to four visitors crossed the border at the same time as me, and the entire clearance and declaration process only took about five minutes.

In fact, very few Macau residents used the HZMB and Hengqin borders in practice. Using these borders has reduced the willingness and frequency of Macau residents in crossing the border since the location of and transportation from these two borders is relatively inconvenient compared with Gongbei border – but for visitors, such inconveniences are tolerable.

Meanwhile, the HZMB joint clearance building had reserved at least 20 clearance lanes and enough areas for quite a large number of visitors. Clearly the HZMB border has enough capacity to accept more visitors.

The latest expansion to quarantine exemptions allowing Macau residents to enter nine GBA cities indicates that a further mutual trust has now been reached between Macau, Zhuhai and Guangdong province  given those other major cities in Guangdong agreed to handle people returning from Macau.

Macau Chief Executive Ho Iat Seng previously stated that “good news” might happen in July. If Macau’s pandemic situation remains stable and clearance procedures at the HZMB and Hengqin border continues to run smoothly, we might positively expected that a small number of visitors will be allowed to enter and leave Macau under the current system being used by Macau residents, and they might also be allowed to return to those nine cities in the GBA after leaving Macau.

If so, there may just be some light at the end of the tunnel approaching soon for Macau’s long-frustrated gaming and tourism operators.

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