Editorial : The mistake concerning Return2hk must not be repeated

【明報專訊】The COVID-19 outbreak in Guangzhou's Liwan District caused the SAR government to cancel the Return2hk travel scheme at one point. Now the number of cases has increased from two to four. It remains to be seen how things will unfold and how the Return2hk travel scheme will be affected.

That the government excluded all Hong Kong people living in Guangdong Province from the Return2hk scheme just because of an outbreak in a micro-district in Liwan, Guangzhou was, strictly speaking, not a screw-up. It was ignorance about the things going on on the piece of land measuring 9.6 million square kilometres to the north of Shenzhen River. That was comparable to the barbaric actions taken when the pandemic was at its most serious stage on the mainland — the erection of iron barriers at the entrances of some villages to prevent everyone from entering or leaving the village. That was, in essence, an inaccurate execution of the policies formulated by the central government.

The SAR government's mistake of expanding the scope of the suspension of the travel scheme from a micro-district in Liwan to the entire Guangdong Province was not the first of its kind. Back when there were outbreaks in some areas of Liaoning and Anhui provinces (there are still 22 medium-risk zones in these two provinces), the SAR government banned Hong Kong residents in these two provinces from returning to Hong Kong via the Return2hk scheme. However, the mistake was not exposed back then, as there were no Hong Kongers returning to Hong Kong from these two provinces. Therefore, the banning of Hong Kongers living in the entire Guangdong province simply because there were two cases in Liwan District was consistent with the government's established policies. Governments in many countries or regions make mistakes. The problem is that the mistake of treating a local outbreak that happened in a micro-district as if it was happening in the entire province was not spotted by anyone in the entire SAR government, officials from the Liaison Office or the National Health Commission.

The fact that the SAR government did not focus on how to handle the lists of areas of different risks issued by the National Health Commission in their internal discussions was, if viewed from a less stringent perspective, not its fault. For it has absolutely no idea about how it is done by the mainland authorities at different levels. The health code scheme is in place in all provinces on the mainland, accurately recording the travel history of every person. The health code turns red if someone stays in a risky region. There are records of every place that every person has been to — nothing can hide from the watchful eye of the system. Conversely, if someone has simply travelled to the periphery of a risky region, such as the districts outside the risky zone in Liwan, the health code stays green, and the person will not encounter any difficulty entering or leaving other venues. There is also a travel code that records the provinces and cities that someone has been to over the past 14 days.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam recently announced that she would sign an agreement with the Guangdong provincial government under which the civil servants from the two governments would go on exchanges and take up temporary positions. Why hasn't the SAR government acted on this proposal immediately and applied it to disease control departments first? The reopening of the border between Hong Kong and the mainland is the top priority of Hong Kong. It is believed that both regions are working towards this goal. The efforts of the governments of the two regions must not be hampered by misunderstanding. Nor should misunderstanding delay the reopening of the border. The SAR government should explain to millions of people eager for the reopening of the border how it will take the initiative to address the misunderstanding.

明報社評2021.05.28:「回港易」烏龍不可再 官員應即掛職內地








act on sth : to take action as a result of advice, information, etc

hamper : to prevent sb from easily doing or achieving sth

take the initiative : if you take the initiative in a situation, you are the first person to act, and are therefore able to control the situation

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