Big strides made in resuming local tours

Top News | Jane Cheung 15 Apr 2021

Local tours are set to resume soon with the mandatory requirements that people in a party use the LeaveHomeSafe app and guides are vaccinated or tested for the virus 72 hours before each tour.

At a meeting with the tourism sector, authorities, it was said, stepped back from requiring guides and tourists to be vaccinated before resuming local tours and gave the green light as long as tourists scan the app's QR codes every time they get on a coach and arrive at a destination.

Tour guides and bus drivers can choose between testing before each tour or having the jabs.

Those who have received both doses of the Beijing-made CoronaVac from Sinovac or the German-made Comirnaty by BioNTech/Fosun followed by 14 days for full protection to develop can forego tests.

Tourism sector legislator Yiu Si-wing said local tours can resume early next month if the Executive Council meeting on Tuesday approves exempting them from the four-person social gathering cap.

The Hong Kong Association of Travel Agents said the sector believes the requirements are reasonable, and putting LeaveHomeSafe QR codes on tour buses would not be difficult.

The association expects that more than 100 outings - each with less than 30 tourists - could be held on Saturdays and Sundays.

It was suggested earlier that authorities were looking for the tourism sector to fulfill at least one of three requirements to resume local tours: guides and tourists having both doses of a vaccine; testing negative 72 hours before a tour; and having rapid antigen tests beforehand.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong has seen a surge in bookings at vaccination centers since Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor announced a "bubble" plan to relax social distancing measures in restaurants and other premises based on inoculations of staff and customers. She also said vaccinations would be a bubble requirement with overseas countries.

On Sunday, 1,800 people made bookings for the Sinovac jab and 6,500 for BioNTech. And on Monday, when Lam held a briefing to announce "incentives to boost the SAR's undesirable vaccination rate" the booking numbers doubled. And bookings rose again to nearly 23,000 on Tuesday.

As of Tuesday, 303,400 Hongkongers had received two doses of vaccine and 615,300 one dose.

Vaccinations would also help in relaxing quarantine requirements for flight crew members, Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan said at a special meeting of the Legislative Council's finance committee.

Authorities are now considering relaxing quarantine for inoculated crew members.

On whether the administration will bring in a new round of subsidies for them after the current HK$8.8 billion fund expires next month, Chan said the situation will be reviewed later.

Authorities also tightened the mechanism on banning flights from destinations with serious outbreaks from yesterday.

When there are three or more passengers infected on the same plane or at least four passengers from the same destination arrive on two planes of the same airline within seven days the operator's flights from the destination will be banned for 14 days.

And to guard against people arriving with more infectious Covid-19 variants, if in seven days flights from a country fly five or more passengers with the variants to Hong Kong then all flights from the country will be banned for 14 days.

Infectious disease expert Ho Pak-leung from the University of Hong Kong, meanwhile, repeated his call for authorities to ban flights from the Philippines and India, which carried most of the SAR's imported cases this month.

"If we don't act quickly it will be disastrous if variants are leaked to the community," Ho warned.

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