Editorial:Hong Kong's health code scheme and the reopening of borders with mainland

【明報專訊】HONG KONG has basically brought the number of COVID-19 cases to zero, and the vaccination rate has reached 60%. However, there is still not a timetable for the reopening of borders with the mainland. The Chief Executive has said that she is seeking to communicate with mainland experts to understand the mainland's requirements for the quarantine-free reopening of borders. Some lawmakers have expressed concern about whether the issue is related to the fact that Hong Kong has not introduced a ''health code'' scheme.

The Delta variant is raging. Earlier, there were outbreaks in many mainland provinces and cities. The authorities took drastic action to fight the pandemic. They took about a month to stamp out the pandemic, which once again demonstrated the mainland's ability to keep bringing COVID-19 cases to zero. Foreign media outlets have described China as the first country to successfully bring a Delta pandemic under control. In light of the pandemic situation on the mainland, the Hong Kong government halted the ''Return2hk'' scheme at one point. Yesterday (September 8) the related arrangements were fully resumed, with the government also announcing the launch of the ''Come2hk'' scheme next Wednesday that will allow non-Hong Kong residents from the mainland and Macao to come to Hong Kong without having to be in quarantine. The scheme will have a daily quota of 2,000 people. For mainlanders who need to come to Hong Kong, the ''Come2hk'' scheme certainly has its advantages. But the problem is the difficulty to go to mainland China, since people going to mainland China from Hong Kong will still have to undergo the ''7+7+7'' quarantine arrangements (7-day centralised quarantine, 7-day home quarantine and 7-day health monitoring at home). As a one-way relaxation measure launched by the Hong Kong government, the ''Come2hk'' scheme will make it easy to travel to Hong Kong, but not to return to the mainland. It will not be very effective in attracting mainlanders to come to Hong Kong. To give a fresh impetus to Hong Kong's economy, the borders between the two regions must be reopened as soon as possible.

Hong Kong has experienced many setbacks and reversals in fighting the pandemic. In recent months, it has finally found a set of methods of its own to bring the case number to zero. As for vaccination, although the vaccination rates for the elderly and young people are still not ideal, the overall vaccination rate rose significantly in the summer holidays in Hong Kong. The latest figures show that more than 4.2 million people in Hong Kong have been vaccinated, equivalent to 63% of the population that can be vaccinated. In the West, some countries rely on high vaccination rates and intend to go down the path of herd immunity rather than try to being case numbers to zero. They have relaxed pandemic restrictions massively, which has resulted in a major rebound of case numbers. Recently, many unvaccinated people in the US have fallen seriously ill and died of COVID-19. There is still a long way to go before the goal of universal vaccination can be reached. As Hong Kong has basically brought case numbers to zero, reopening the borders with the mainland is the most reasonable strategy. It is regrettable that there has not been a specific timetable so far.

In May last year, the Hong Kong government mentioned the possibility of the mutual recognition of the health code schemes of Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macao. In September that year, the government even stated that the testing of the system of Hong Kong's health code scheme had been roughly completed, and that it would ''depend on the pandemic situation in Hong Kong'' as to when the scheme would be implemented. There was even a preliminary outline of the scheme's specific mode of operation. Government officials stated that there would be a limit on the number of people. In the initial stage, only people who needed to visit relatives, for instance, would be allowed to apply. But there has been a lack of progress since then.

As the Hong Kong government has decided to give priority to the reopening of borders with the mainland, it should remain committed to this goal. The government should tell the public what kind of problem it has run into concerning the reopening of borders so as to allow society to discuss what choice to make or explore a compromise solution.

明報社評 2021.09.09:「港康碼」難產惹疑惑 通關阻滯弄清原委






■/ Glossary 生字 /

stamp sth out:to get rid of sth that is bad, unpleasant or dangerous, especially by using force or a lot of effort

halt / hɔːlt /

to stop; to make sb/sth stop

resume / rɪˈzjuːm /

if you resume an activity, or if it resumes, it begins again or continues after an interruption


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