Border reopening: Hong Kong needs to speed up

July 07, 2021 11:29
Photo: Reuters

The question about Hong Kong opening borders is not why and how, but when.

Clearly there have been more than four weeks of zero local infection on an uninterrupted basis, a respectable track record under the pandemic, thanks largely to the health conscious Hong Kong people.

Most countries would have already opened their borders with such record. The United States and the United Kingdom – both still saw high number of Covid-19 cases on daily basis, is discussing to resume normal travel with a plan to be announced later this week.

Unfortunately Hong Kong has seen inconsistencies in its open gate policy, evidenced by barring British passengers to come late last month because its worsening situation hit the circuit breaker, days after it announced to shorten the quarantine period to one-week from two weeks for vaccinated visitors.

Hong Kong should adopt the new mindset of looking at the death and vaccination rate rather than insisting on targeting zero infections, a stern policy adopted by China for all mainland cities, including Macau and Hong Kong.

Zero infection is almost impossible to achieve, as shown in the increasing number of reported Covid cases in the Greater Bay Area in the last month when Hong Kong became a role model city in curbing the infection.

True, for the first time in more than 40 years, there were more deaths than births in the United Kingdom last year, according to the Office for National Statistics.

But it is also true that the death rate was significantly reduced with vaccines, and that is why the western countries decided to take steps to resume the normal routine and live with the covid.

At around 36 per cent vaccination rate (1st vaccine dose), one may say Hong Kong is still below the world standard and trailing behind Singapore, which plans to raise the vaccination rate to 66 per cent by its national day on August 9.

But Hong Kong has kept the covid-19 situation under better control. It is hoped that the Hong Kong-Singapore air travel bubble (which unfortunately burst twice in the last eight months) would resume soon.

But before that, Hong Kong could start with the daily quarantine-free quota for visitors with Macau first. According to the press reports, it is expected a maximum of 3,000 would be allowed to travel between the two cities.

Of course the travelers would need to be vaccinated and they would not use such scheme to go to the mainland.

Reciprocal border opening would be important to kick-start the local tourism business, which has been hampered for two years.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam said she had made an urgent request to open borders last week when she was invited to the centenary celebration of the Communist Party, although there is no concrete timeframe on the reopening schedule.

But Hong Kong has to move faster than that. Otherwise, what’s the point of keeping a clean health bill?

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EJ Insight writer