Mainlanders can again transit in HK when flying out

Top News | Jane Cheung and Mandy Zheng 14 Aug 2020

Mainland passengers heading overseas will be able to transit at Hong Kong International Airport from tomorrow as China's Covid-19 situation eases.

While experts said the transiting passengers will pose little infection risk to Hong Kong, flight attendants were among those expressing worries.

In announcing plans, the Airport Authority said mainlanders in transit must be booked through on one ticket even if their flights involve different carriers.

Passengers should also be checked in with boarding passes and baggage tags to their final destinations.

"The layover time of transit passengers at the airport must be within 24 hours," the authority stressed, and passengers "should also confirm in advance that they are able to enter the final destination."

And to avoid passengers being stranded at Chek Lap Kok, airlines must ensure people will meet immigration and quarantine requirements at their destination before they start their journeys.

"To further minimize the risk of transmission and contact, transit passengers will be given stickers at transfer points for identification purposes," the authority said, "and they are requested to go to boarding gates for their connecting flights immediately."

Designated seating and dining arrangements will also feature at each boarding gate.

All transit and arriving passengers must also undergo body temperature screening upon arrival and wear masks in all areas of the airport.

Zuki Wong Sze-man, chairwoman of Cathay Pacific Airways Flight Attendants Union, said if coronavirus cases surge in certain mainland cities then passengers from those places should be barred immediately from transiting in Hong Kong.

"We'd also like to know in detail how passengers will be arranged during meal times as they will not be wearing masks when eating and the virus could spread around," she said.

Transport sector legislator Frankie Yick Chi-ming noted that the arrangement will help mainland students studying overseas.

And resuming partial activities at the airport will help increase its income, he said.

In line to benefit from the arrangement is Lucinda Peng, a 20-year-old university student in Toronto, Canada, who decided to take a one-semester break due to the Covid-19 pandemic and stay in the mainland instead.

"All the classes next semester will be online, and it will be impossible for me to wake up at midnight and attend online classes every day," she said, so she will return to Canada before January.

Chuang Shuk-kwan, who heads the Centre for Health Protection's communicable disease unit, said the resumption of outbound transit flights from the mainland should not have much impact on Hong Kong.

"The mainland has seen very few cases recently," she said. "The risk is relatively low."

Infectious disease expert Leung Chi-chiu of the Hong Kong Medical Association said health risks are limited as the outbreak in the mainland is under control.

But low-risk transit passengers from the mainland may come into contact with arrivals from high-risk regions, he cautioned in pointing to cross-infection risks.

At present, arrivals from nine high-risk nations - the United States, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Africa and Kazakhstan - must present a Covid-19 negative test result from within 72 hours before boarding flights to Hong Kong.

But Leung suggested shortening the period to 24 hours for departures from high-risk regions.

Another infectious disease expert, Ho Pak-leung of the University of Hong Kong, noted that only Xinjiang and Liaoning have been hit by small-cluster outbreaks on the mainland.

He suggested Hong Kong reaches an agreement with mainland authorities about how to respond if travelers who have been to high-risk areas are rejected at their intended destination countries.

"If they are sent back to Hong Kong, will we allow them to stay here or send them back to the mainland by plane or road?" he asked.

"This requires planning ahead."

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