英文

Editorial : The reopening of borders with mainland China

【明報專訊】THE COVID-19 pandemic situation in Hong Kong has eased off, and the consumption markets have rebounded quite a bit. The National Day holiday coincides with the second issue of electronic consumer vouchers. That has no doubt been welcomed by the retail and catering industries. However, the fact that a quarantine-free opening of borders with the mainland remains not in sight means that there is still a crucial missing piece in the jigsaw of Hong Kong's return to normal economic and social activities.

Hong Kong has basically brought the number of COVID-19 cases to zero. For 44 days in a row, it has not registered a single case locally. Many people are concerned about when Hong Kong will be able to open its borders with the mainland without quarantine, something that Macao has done. Earlier, the Hong Kong government launched the "Come2hk" scheme that sets a daily quota for non-Hong Kong residents' arrival in Hong Kong from the mainland without quarantine. However, people travelling northward from Hong Kong to the mainland are still subject to mandatory quarantine of at least 14 days in accordance with mainland regulations. When it comes to the real restoration of the movement of people between Hong Kong and the mainland, the effects of the "Come2hk" scheme are actually limited. Hong Kong's economy has rebounded in recent months, and the August retail sales data published yesterday (September 30) rose by nearly 12% year-on-year. However, to a certain extent, such figures are the reflection of the stimulation given by the first phase of the consumption voucher scheme. Not only will the earlier reopening of the borders without quarantine make it easier for Hong Kong people to travel northward to the mainland for business, family visits and travel, but it will also inject fresh impetus into Hong Kong people's livelihood and the economy.

Last month Chief Executive Carrie Lam said that the central government had not set specific conditions for the reopening of borders between the two places, and experts from the two places needed to "get connected" to discuss the details first. The first "connection" meeting was held in Shenzhen five days ago (September 26). Several officials at the rank of director of bureau and government expert advisor David Hui met with central government officials from the National Health Commission and other central agencies and representatives of the Guangdong and Shenzhen authorities. They exchanged views on anti-pandemic strategies and the reopening of borders. According to what Chief Secretary for Administration John Lee said after the meeting, there are a few points worth noting. First, the mainland authorities did not lay down specific conditions for the reopening of borders, which allows more room for future negotiations. Second, mainland experts approve of Hong Kong's anti-pandemic efforts and the success in bringing case numbers to zero, but they still have doubts about whether Hong Kong will become a point of weakness in China's anti-pandemic efforts. Third, Hong Kong needs to strengthen some of its anti-pandemic measures, including the testing and quarantine of immigrants, as well as overall risk management so that the mainland has confidence in Hong Kong's anti-pandemic system.

Despite the setbacks suffered by Hong Kong, it has maintained a clean slate in recent months, which is no doubt cause for celebration. However, no matter whether it is the prevention of imported cases externally and the prevention of a rebound internally, there have been some dangerous situations from time to time. Hong Kong is an international city. In recent months, there have been cases imported through international flights almost every day. In contrast, the mainland has a population of more than 1.4 billion, but on average it registers just a few imported cases every several days. The risk in Hong Kong is obviously greater than that on the mainland.

The Hong Kong government has not scientifically rated the pandemic risks of different countries. It has not adjusted the lists of high-, medium- and low-risk areas in time to reflect the changes in the pandemic situations in different countries. The rules and operations of the special quarantine exemption arrangements for individual arrivals are not transparent. Despite the serious pandemic situation in Australia, movie star Nicole Kidman was allowed to come to Hong Kong for filming without having to be in quarantine. This is obviously problematic from the perspective of pandemic restrictions. The Hong Kong government's failure to perform such basic tasks properly makes it inevitable that the mainland lacks confidence in Hong Kong's pandemic prevention and control work.

明報社評2021.10.01:十一國慶關未通 健康碼障礙待破

本港疫情緩和,市道回復不少,十一國慶假期,適逢第2期電子消費券發放,零售飲食業當然歡迎,然而與內地免檢疫通關無期,香港經濟民生復常拼圖,始終欠了關鍵一塊。

香港疫情基本清零,連續44天本地零確診,不少人關心,香港何時能夠像澳門一樣,落實與內地免檢疫通關。較早前,港府推出「來港易」計劃,定下每日來港額度,讓內地非香港居民免檢疫來港,然而由香港北上,仍需按內地規定,接受至少14天強制隔離,對於真正恢復兩地人流,「來港易」的作用其實有限。雖然近月本港經濟反彈,昨天公布的8月零售銷售數據,按年升近12%,然而有關數字一定程度是受首期消費券計劃所刺激,早日恢復免檢疫通關,既可方便港人北上公幹探親旅遊,亦可為本地民生經濟注入外來活水。

行政長官林鄭月娥上月表示,中央未就兩地通關定下具體條件,需要先由兩地專家「對接」商討細節,首場對接會議5天前在深圳舉行,特區政府多名局長與政府專家顧問許樹昌,跟國家衛健委等中央官員及粵深政府代表,就防疫策略及恢復通關交換意見。觀乎政務司長李家超會後的說法,有幾點值得留意。首先,內地方面並無提出具體通關條件,為往後磋商留下較多迴旋空間;其次,內地專家認同香港的抗疫努力及「清零」成績,惟對香港成為國家防疫缺口仍有疑慮;第三,香港需要強化一些防疫措施,包括入境者檢測檢疫,以及整體風險管理,令內地對香港防疫抗疫制度有信心。

香港抗疫跌跌撞撞,近月保持基本清零,固然可喜,可是無論外防輸入還是內防反彈,總是不時鬧出險象。香港是國際城市,近月差不多每天都有個案透過國際航班輸入,相比之下,內地人口逾14億,輸入個案平均亦不過是數天有幾宗,香港的風險明顯較內地大。

港府對不同國家疫情風險評級不夠科學,未有緊貼各地疫情變化,適時調整高中低風險地區名單,對於個別入境人士的的豁免檢疫特別安排,準則與操作皆不透明,澳洲疫情嚴重,明星妮歌潔曼依然獲准豁免檢疫來港拍戲,從防疫而言明顯有問題。港府連這些基本工也做不好,很難怪內地對香港疫情防控制度信心不足。

■Glossary 生字

register : if a measuring instrument registers an amount or sth registers an amount on a measuring instrument, the instrument shows or records that amount

impetus : sth that encourages a process or activity to develop more quickly

a clean slate : a record of your work or behaviour that does not show any mistakes or bad things that you have done

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