Heat's on over testing amid tourism job fears

Top News | Maisy Mok and Jane Cheung 27 Oct 2020

People who show Covid-19 symptoms should be required to take tests and social distancing regulations should be maintained before borders are reopened, the government's coronavirus advisers said yesterday.

This came as tour operators yesterday called for government aid and held a slow-drive protest involving tour coaches from Golden Bauhinia Square, Wan Chai, to the central government offices to demand mandatory territory-wide testing so borders can reopen.

Hong Kong saw zero local infections yesterday, with eight imported cases - seven males and one female from Pakistan, Czech Republic, Russia, Serbia, France, Indonesia and India.

Government adviser David Hui Shu-cheong from the Chinese University said Hong Kong is continuing to see sporadic local infections, indicating silent transmission chains still exist, meaning the virus can easily penetrate the community and lead to clusters.

"If we want to reopen borders sooner, anti-Covid-19 measures can't be relaxed by much. We should also guard against imported cases spreading the virus."

Another adviser, Yuen Kwok-yung from the University of Hong Kong, said people who have shown symptoms for 48 hours should be legally required to be tested to minimize risks to the community.

"It should be treated on par with other infectious diseases. If a doctor suspects a patient of having tuberculosis, it must be reported to the Department of Health without having to confirm the diagnosis," he said.

Yuen said all three waves emerged from imported cases and called for more frequent tests for arrivals waived from the mandatory 14-day quarantine.

Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po said the economy could only be back on track after trade and travel exchanges with the mainland are resumed and suggested mandatory large-scale testing be conducted in order to achieve these objectives.

His remarks were echoed by the sector, which said only the resumption of cross-border travel can save the industry and urged the Employment Support Scheme be extended by six months.

It said giving local tours the green light would not help much and warned that 6,000 to 8,000 workers could be laid off after the second tranche of employment support scheme ends next month.

Travel Industry Council director Tommy Tam Kwong-shung said massive layoffs in the industry could be under way and expected them to be harsher than the Cathay Pacific sacking of 5,300 local staff.

Perry Yiu Pak-leung, convener of Hong Kong Travel Agents' Relief Alliance, said "many [travel industry] bosses before the end of October have to communicate with their employees whether they [have to] opt for no-pay leave or be sacked."

On relaxed social distancing measures for local tours, he said 79 travel agents and 200 local tour routes are currently registered with the council.

But having inspected tourism spots such as Lantau, Yiu said not many local tours operated during the long weekend as people are still worried about local transmissions, adding agencies are still affected by the four-person gathering cap, causing difficulties in arranging food and transport.

Taxi and minibus drivers will be tested starting today in the second round of voluntary surveillance. The program will last until November 9 at 14 centers.

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