Mr Chan said travellers from each side should take PCR tests and make sure they are COVID-19 negative before making the trips to mitigate infections. It is not immediately clear whether the tests will be mandatory.

COVID-19 infections have surged across China in recent weeks after Beijing abruptly began dismantling its tough zero-COVID policy in early December.

The January 8 date mentioned by Mr Chan was the clearest indication yet that the Hong Kong government is aiming to restore quarantine-free, cross-border travel after a three-year hiatus due to COVID-19. Chief Executive John Lee said earlier the border with mainland China would reopen by mid-January.

In a major step towards reopening its international borders, China will stop requiring inbound travellers to go into quarantine, also starting from January 8.