Residents and non-residents anxiously waiting for an easing of border restrictions with Zhuhai

As life slowly returns to normal in Zhuhai, local residents and non-residents who used to regularly cross the border to Macau anxiously recounted to Macau News Agency (MNA) their expectations, as entry restrictions are slowly eased between the two sides.

No new Covid-19 cases have been reported in Macau for the past 41 days, and the neighbouring city of Zhuhai has reported 103 cases and one death overall, but no new cases since April.

“People are back in the streets, schools have re-opened. Most people continue to use masks but the city is more alive […] I felt that since the end of April, and the beginning of May the situation started improving and the city became active again,” designer Clara Brito, a Macau resident who lives in Zhuhai told MNA.

“For a period you would not see anyone in the streets. But now restaurants, cafes and supermarkets are open. There’s still a lot of control, in the complex I live in they check body temperature at the door.”

Before March, Clara had no issues crossing the border between the two cities and just needed to fill in the required health certificate.

However, a sudden announcement by Guangdong authorities on March 26, stating that a 14-day quarantine requirement for people entering the province from Macau and Hong Kong would be enforced the next day led to a rush to local borders.

The decision was prompted after a spike in new imported Covid-19 cases in Mainland China, Macau, and Hong Kong.

“It was a very sudden announcement, I still suffered a bit when crossing the border. I tried to cross a bit later to see if there would be fewer people, but when I arrived at the Lotus Bridge border it was chaos, a huge line of 30 to 40 meters. […] It was a long night, maybe seven hours to cross, and I arrived home at about 7:00am,” Clara told MNA.

She is now still conducting her normal work from home but anxiously waiting for requirements for tests to cover people in her situation and be able to step into Macau again.

This month authorities in both sides started easing border restrictions, with Macau residents needing to cross the border allowed to take Covid-19 tests that can exempt them from mandatory quarantine in Guangdong, with that measure extended some days later to workers from Mainland China with jobs in Macao who carry a Zhuhai ID or residence permits for the city.

People in the Macau side and covered by the quarantine exemption need to present a nucleic acid test certificate proving that they have tested negative for Covid-19 within the past seven days and green colour code in the health code system issued by the Macau Health Bureau (SS).

According to police authorities, a total number of 45,000 entries and exits were reported in local borders yesterday, an increase of 38 per cent from the previous day.

Molly Yu, a local company director, has been stuck on the opposite side of the barricade and is still waiting for the best time to cross the border.

“I couldn’t cross to Zhuhai because I don’t have a residence permit in the city and I would be quarantined for 14 days. So, from the end of March until now, I have only stayed in Macau,” Molly tells MNA.

Local Macau-Zhuhai cross-border commuters, as well as Chinese workers, first have to make an appointment first to undergo their tests at the Taipa Ferry Terminal testing station, with the first test being free of charge for all Macau residents and non-resident workers, but follow-up tests costing MOP180 (US$22) each.

The test results are valid for a seven-day period, after which the test needs to be repeated. About 2,000 to 3,000 people have carried out tests in the center, with local authorities having the capacity for 6,000 daily tests.

To return back from Zhuhai, Molly would also need to take another nucleic acid test; the situation having impacted her business deals on the other side of the border.

“I was expected to go to Mainland China to discuss cooperation with other companies, and my family in Zhuhai is not able to take care of it,” she told MNA.

Meanwhile, media employee Wendi Song has not yet been able to cross to Macau since she returned to her hometown for the Chinese New Year in February as SAR authorities imposed a mandatory 14-day quarantine for Chinese non-resident workers.

“Everything is back to normal, we still use masks, but schools, restaurants, and shopping malls are open again,” Wendy noted.

She has been working from home since then, but this month can now finally undergo Covid-19 testing and be allowed to cross to the Macau side again.

Nucleic acid tests can be taken at designated qualified medical institutions in both Zhuhai and Macau in advance, the Zhuhai Hospital of Integrated Traditional Chinese & Western Medicine – the closest public hospital in the city near Macau – has received a daily average of 2,000 migrant workers for tests.

“Names are placed in different list groups, you have to be on a list to take the tests at local hospitals. I tried to do the test last week, but they said I was not in the first group. I heard I’m on the second list, and I’ve booked my test. There’s a lot of people waiting to take the tests, especially in the hospital near Gongbei Border,” Wendy tells MNA.

“Now they have announced a 24-hour waiting period. Hopefully, I can go back to Macau this Friday or early next week,” she adds.

People who have obtained a nucleic acid test certificate are only allowed to enter Zhuhai or Macau after their sample has been collected at least 24 hours before.

Today, SS Director, Lei Chin Ion, stated that local authorities could still not provide a timeline for borders to resume normal operations, as negotiations are still ongoing with Mainland China and Hong Kong authorities.