英文

Editorial : 'Travel bubbles'

【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.

明報社評2020.05.08:「旅遊氣泡」未經考驗 解封旅業審慎而為

疫情冰封全球旅遊業,香港未能倖免。部分國家及地區疫情近期轉趨緩和,為了重啟經濟,醞釀有選擇、有條件放寬出入境限制和檢疫規定。中韓為兩地企業特定人員設立「快速通道」,澳紐和波羅的海3國則各自「埋堆」,建立「旅遊氣泡」恢復區內跨境旅遊;在香港,有旅遊業人士則提出,若疫情持續改善,可優先考慮港澳深圳珠海「4點互通」。外圍疫情仍然嚴峻,香港千辛萬苦始把疫情控制下來,放寬入境檢疫步伐,不能操之過急,可是未來如何逐步重啟旅遊業,亦是必須處理的問題。港府應參考外地經驗,及早籌謀部署。

新型冠狀病毒大流行,各地紛紛採取嚴厲入境檢疫措施,跨境人員流動銳減,航空公司幾乎無法運作,旅行社更是「零生意」,即使未來疫情回穩,航空業旅遊業走出冰封狀態,「解凍」過程亦將相當漫長痛苦。以航空業為例,如果未來所有航班均須因應社交距離要求,空出機艙中間座位,部分航空公司未必撐得住。國際航空運輸協會向逾百間航空公司了解,發現僅得4間有能力在這種狀態下保持收支平衡,機票大幅加價無可避免,而這又必然影響國際旅客人數,旅遊業復蘇舉步維艱。

各國抗疫形勢不一,美國仍然水深火熱,部分歐洲國家疫情放緩,至於中韓澳紐等地,抗疫形勢相對理想,有較佳條件逐步重啟經濟、適度恢復跨境人員流動。上月底,中韓為方便兩國特定商務和技術人員往來,設立「快速通道」,簡化入境手續和檢疫要求,只要符合審批條件,通過核酸檢測,就可免除入境隔離。《華爾街日報》報道,除了韓國,中方亦跟東亞和歐洲10多個國家提出「快速通道」構思,方便商務技術人員必要往來,修復國際產業鏈和供應鏈。在台灣,一些台商亦希望有「快速通道」,讓他們來往大陸處理業務。

多地合作共建「旅遊氣泡」,既要視乎疫情,亦要建基信任,前者可參考客觀資料,後者則很大程度是政治問題。若然外國經驗證明「旅遊氣泡」行得通,港深珠澳互通值得考慮,然而香港內地關係緊繃會否影響四地合作,仍要拭目以待。

■Glossary

生字

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

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