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Over 1,500 tourists depart Hong Kong after Lunar New Year fireworks under extended crossing hours to prevent overcrowding

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City authorities extended operations at select checkpoints for the festive event as part of efforts to avoid a repeat of scenes that followed the New Year’s Eve fireworks display, when crowds of travellers were left stranded at some crossings and stations.

Travellers arrive at the Lo Wu border crossing at catching the festive fireworks in Hong Kong. Photo: Yik Yeung-man

In terms of inbound travellers, officials at Shenzhen Bay and Lo Wu logged 1,550 and 2,023 people, mostly made up of Hongkongers, heading into the city during the crossings’ respective extended operating hours.

Overall, Hong Kong’s Immigration Department recorded 435,697 people coming into the city through 13 checkpoints during the second day of the Lunar New Year on Sunday, while 530,168 headed out.

The total number of individual trips that day, 965,865, fell below pre-Covid levels of more than 1 million.

Lawmaker Edward Lau Kwok-fan, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, on Monday praised the “smooth and orderly” handling of border traffic during the extended operating hours.

“Overall, as the time that the border checkpoints are operating are now longer, tourists and residents will not need to rush there at a certain period of time, so they can arrange their own time relatively better,” he told a radio programme.

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Under the policy, the Shenzhen Bay checkpoint has remained open at all hours from last Friday until Tuesday, while the Lo Wo crossing’s extended operations wrapped up on Sunday.

Both crossings typically close at midnight under the regular arrangement, with only Shenzhen Bay being open 24 hours a day for freight vehicles.

On Sunday, the Post observed hundreds of travellers heading to the mainland through the Lo Wu checkpoint after gathering to watch the city’s Lunar New Year fireworks.

Lau, who represents the New Territories North constituency, said the arrangement was a good start and hoped it would be used for future holidays celebrated in Hong Kong and on the mainland.

The legislator also suggested extending standard opening hours at checkpoints, citing that the Lok Ma Chau spur line typically closed at 10.30pm each day and could be changed to midnight.

The change would bring the crossing into line with arrangements at the Lo Wu control point, which is connected by the East Rail line, he added.

“The amount of people at the Lok Ma Chau spur line is basically the same as Lo Wu, once you cross to the opposite Futian control point, you have buses, taxis and most importantly railways when you cross over,” Lau said.

He also brushed aside concerns that more convenient crossing arrangements for mainland tourists would discourage overnight stays in the city and fail to benefit the local economy.

The problem was a “chicken and egg” situation, with more tourists likely to capitalise on extended crossing hours if a large number of businesses were willing to stay open for longer, the lawmaker added.

“If the arrangements can be done better overall, I think Hong Kong businesses will naturally open their stores later to accommodate the people flow when they see it,” he said.

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Members of Hong Kong’s catering sector also expressed their satisfaction with the level of business over the Lunar New Year break so far, as an industry representative said his establishment had returned to 95 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.

“At the onset, our table reservation rate was only about 70 to 80 per cent, but in the one to two days before Lunar New Year, our table reservation rate and seat filling rate was very good,” Leung Chun-wah, chairman of the Association for Hong Kong Catering Services Management, told the same radio show.

“Every restaurant is seeing more than one cycle of diners.”

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