【明報專訊】THE COVID-19 pandemic has shut down tourism around the globe, and Hong Kong has not been insulated from that. As the situation has eased recently in some countries and regions, they are mulling over a relaxation of entry restrictions and quarantine requirements in a selected and conditional manner so as to restart the economy. China and South Korea have set up a "fast-track" entry system for specific people in the business sector in the two countries. Australia, New Zealand and the three Baltic states have formed a "club" in the form of a "travel bubble" to restore cross-border travel between them. In Hong Kong, some people in the tourist industry have said that a four-point link between Hong Kong, Macao, Shenzhen and Zhuhai can be prioritised if the situation continues to improve. The outbreak remains severe outside Hong Kong. Against all odds our city has brought the disease under control, so the relaxation of quarantine arrangements at immigration control cannot be rushed. That said, how tourism can be restarted in phases is indeed a question that has to be tackled. The government should take note of other regions' experience in doing so and plan ahead.
Amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, stringent quarantine measures at entry points have been adopted by different governments. The sharp fall in cross-border passenger traffic has almost put airlines into hibernation, while tourist agencies are even doing zero business. Even if the outbreak stabilises in the future, the aviation and tourism industries' emergence from hibernation will be a long and painful journey. Take the aviation industry. If, for example, on all flights it is required that middle seats must be left empty so as to comply with social distancing requirements, some airlines might not be able to carry on operation. The International Air Transport Association has reached out to over a hundred airlines and understands that only four of them can balance the books in such a situation, but a sharp increase in airfares will be unavoidable. This will in turn affect the number of international passengers. The aviation industry faces a bumpy road to recovery.
Different countries face different situations in terms of the pandemic. While the US is still in deep water, the situation has eased in some European countries. Regions like China, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand are doing relatively well against the pandemic and have the ability to restart the economy and restore cross-border travel moderately. Late last month, China and South Korea set up a "fast-track" system to make it easier for specific people in the business and technical sectors to visit the other country. Entry procedures and quarantine requirements have been simplified. Those who meet certain criteria and pass a DNA test can enter the other country without the need for quarantine. As reported by The Wall Street Journal, China has raised the concept of a "fast-track system" with not only South Korea but also more than ten countries in East Asia and Europe to make it easier for people in the business and technical sectors to visit each other, thereby restoring the international industry chain and supply chain. In Taiwan, there are also some Taiwanese business people who want a "fast-track" system that allows them to go to and come back from mainland China to take care of their businesses.
The building of "travel bubbles" between different regions depends on two things: (1) how the pandemic is going and (2) trust. The former can be determined with the help of facts. The latter is, to a large extent, a political issue. If what has been done in other countries shows that "travel bubbles" are a viable idea, the connection between Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Zhuhai and Macao will be an idea that can be considered. However, it remains to be seen whether the strained relationship between Hong Kong and the mainland will affect cooperation between the four regions.
fast-track : happening or making progress more quickly than is usual
against all odds : despite all the difficulties
balance the books : to show that the amount of money a business has received is equal to the amount spent