【明報專訊】For more than a year the COVID-19 pandemic has wrought havoc on the world, and the border between Hong Kong and mainland China has been closed for 475 days. This has seriously disrupted Hong Kong's economy and interactions between residents of the two regions. The SAR government has repeatedly proposed the reopening of the border to no avail. Now Hong Kong has not registered a major case of unknown sources for 27 consecutive days. It is on the road to a zero-case situation. The SAR government should discuss the reopening of the border again with the mainland government as soon as possible. Given the fact that there are still uncertainties concerning the pandemic, the reopening should be conducted in a gradual and orderly manner, so that things will gradually return to their former state ultimately.
COVID-19 has brought about the most serious global pandemic to modern society. It has also caused the greatest inconvenience to travel between the mainland and Hong Kong unseen in decades. The XRL trains and ferries between the mainland and Hong Kong have been suspended, while the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge is being used by only a handful of vehicles. Only a small number of people go through the customs every day. In normal times, tens of thousands of mainland tourists come to Hong Kong to travel, visit their relatives and go shopping. That is not the case anymore. This has seriously affected the tourism, hotel, retail and catering industries, dealing a heavy blow to Hong Kong's economy.
There might have been even greater invisible impacts. Businesspeople who have factories on the mainland cannot manage their factories in person. Accountants cannot travel to the mainland to audit accounts. Investors cannot go to the mainland for business negotiations. Employees who live in Shenzhen cannot travel to Hong Kong for work every day as before. Students living across the border cannot go to school. Tours of the Pearl River Delta, which used to be organised every day, can no longer be arranged. Many Hong Kong citizens who have returned to the mainland to live their retirement lives could not regularly travel back to Hong Kong for follow-up medical consultations and medicines. The closure of the border has been an inexhaustible source of inconvenience.
The border between Hong Kong and the mainland began to be closed on January 30, 2020. Back then, the pandemic was severe on the mainland, but it was mild in Hong Kong. Then, in April and May, the pandemic on the mainland was brought under control gradually. In contrast, Hong Kong witnessed waves of intensifying outbreaks. Since last year, the tourism industry in mainland China has almost performed as well as before the pandemic in every major festival. However, as the pandemic continued in Hong Kong, its request for a reopening of the border has not been answered by the central government. Hong Kong can only stand in awe of the enormous spending power of mainlanders without being able to capitalise on it. Hong Kong residents stranded on the mainland can no longer communicate with their relatives and friends in Hong Kong in person.
For Hong Kong's recovery, all sectors in Hong Kong need mainland tourists. But we should not be overly hopeful that a reopening of the border will turn things around immediately. After all, there are many factors that affect the willingness of mainland residents to come to Hong Kong. The volatility of the pandemic, for example, makes some people unwilling to travel anywhere. It takes time and concrete incidents to restore confidence gradually. We can only wait for things to run their course. That said, the relevant departments should be proactive. They should step up efforts to publicise Hong Kong's anti-pandemic measures on the mainland and offer free consumption coupons as part of the promotion activities. It is also necessary for all sectors to co-operate with the government in order to boost the confidence of different levels of mainland authorities in the reopening of the border.
to/of no avail : without getting the effect you wanted or intended
road : the way to achieving sth
audit : when an accountant audits an organisation's accounts, he or she examines the accounts officially in order to make sure that they have been done correctly