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






■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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