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Wednesday, May 27, 2020

As infection rate slows, Hong Kong government is under increasing pressure to relax travel restrictions and open border with mainland China

As infection rate slows, Hong Kong government is under increasing pressure to relax travel restrictions and open border with mainland China

Politicians urge officials to consider gradual reopening with business travellers exempt from quarantine measures. But Shenzhen government said on Sunday that any visitors would have to be isolated for 14 days

There is increasing pressure on Hong Kong’s government to relax coronavirus travel restrictions between the city and mainland China.

Some politicians have called for an exemption for business travellers, at the very least, as the rate of Covid-19 infections drops.
The calls came despite the Shenzhen government announcing that from Tuesday all travellers to the metropolis, which neighbours Hong Kong, would have to stay at a designated quarantine centre for 14 days for medical observation.

Previously, the two-week quarantine period could take place at home. There have been a total of 422 confirmed cases in the city.

Hong Kong recorded no new Covid-19 cases for the fourth time in eight days on Monday, leaving the total number of infections in the city at 1,037.

Tourism lawmaker Yiu Si-wing said the government could consider lifting the travel restrictions gradually, allowing those who need to cross the border frequently, for business or family visits, exemptions from the two-week quarantine.

He called on officials to discuss with mainland authorities ways to relax the restrictions.

“Don’t assume that if Hong Kong opens the border, the mainland will do the same,” Yiu said. “It’s not necessarily the case. Mainland authorities are very cautious.

“You can see from the new measure in Shenzhen. I think both sides need to communicate and take measures to open up gradually.”

Yiu said that, of the several hundred travellers that arrive in and leave Hong Kong daily, very few are from the mainland. Those from across the border only come for urgent purposes, such as bereavements or seeking medical treatment, he said.

A government source told the Post the administration had been in talks with its mainland counterparts for some time on the border measures.

“We need to be on the same page, as the border has two sides. The other party has to be prepared for any change in border control measures,” the source said.

Executive Council member Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung also said the government should consider gradually relaxing the travel restrictions for business travellers from the mainland.

He suggested those people could enter Hong Kong without serving the 14 days of mandatory quarantine if they tested negative for the virus.

“The government could consider granting some people, such as company executives and legal representatives, professionals and technicians, an entry permit,” Lam said. “Under the measure, they will be allowed to enter Hong Kong with a health certificate and a negative test result at the border checkpoints.”

Lam said he would urge the mainland authorities to implement a similar measure to enable cross-border businesspeople to resume their normal activities.

As for social distancing, Lam said the government could consider relaxing the rules for some businesses, such as allowing pubs, cinemas and outdoor entertainment venues to reopen and raising the cap on group sizes to six people.

“This relaxation of measures depends very much on the development of the coronavirus outbreak. If the situation is getting stable, the government could consider making the move,” he said.

Dr Leung Chi-chiu, chairman of the Medical Association’s advisory committee on communicable diseases, agreed that the government could consider measures to open up borders after May 7, when the social-distancing measures and the compulsory quarantine arrangements covering travellers from the mainland expire.

“People who have reasons to constantly travel between the mainland and Hong Kong should be exempted [from the measures] first. They are not necessarily business travellers,” Leung said, adding that after the Labour Day holiday, if there was no virus outbreak on the mainland, ordinary people could be allowed to travel.

Microbiologist Dr Ho Pak-leung said on a radio programme that the government could consider allowing mainland travellers to enter Hong Kong, if they notified authorities of any visits to high-risk areas, or contacts with high-risk groups in the past month, and passed the nasal and throat sample tests in Hong Kong.

Joe Chau Kwok-ming, president of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Small and Medium Business, said there had been little or no business travel to the mainland from Hong Kong since authorities across the border imposed the quarantine measures last month.

“Actually Hong Kong businessmen have stopped going to the mainland,” he said. “For those having a business there, they will use other methods such as online supervision to monitor their companies and staff.”

On whether the government should relax the border control measures and the social-distancing rules after May 7, Chau said mainland visitors should continue to be quarantined, while the social-distancing rules for local businesses should be relaxed.

“The quarantine measure may still be necessary as there has been a batch of new cases emerging on the mainland,” he said. “So, we need to be prudent on border controls.

“But given the decrease of local infections, we can relax further the social-distancing rules on local businesses, especially for restaurants. These rules have dealt a devastating blow to the local economy and I think they need to be relaxed.”


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