Call to toughen up quarantine rules

Top News | 19 Oct 2021

Wallis Wang

Authorities have been told they should be strict on quarantine exemptions as the risk of imported cases triggering community outbreaks worries Beijing and makes border reopening difficult.

The message came from Michael Tien Puk-sun, a National People's Congress deputy for Hong Kong.

He yesterday cited the case of a Russian deputy consul exempted from quarantine, but his case of Covid-19 triggered a lockdown of his residential building in Sai Wan Ho.

Tien, a Legislative Council member for Roundtable, said on radio he was shocked by NPC Standing Committee delegate Tam Yiu-chung being stopped from attending a meeting in Beijing this week because of the Russian case.

NPC members were allowed to fly to the capital a few months ago even before the SAR achieved zero local cases, Tien noted.

"I think the ban showed that mainland authorities believe Hong Kong is not listening to [their instructions]," Tien said.

He said Beijing's rejection of Tam is a hint that mainland authorities are not satisfied with the SAR's anti-epidemic strategies.

Tien said central government officials are worried that quarantine exemptions for diplomats and others could lead to Covid spreading across the border.

"There are more than 100 consulates in Hong Kong," he said. "Is there a quota [for exemptions]? If each consulate has a dozen staff it adds up to 2,000 people."

Tien suggested the SAR give a consulate three quarantine-free exemptions and cancel the arrangement for family members.

Respiratory specialist Leung Chi-chiu said the SAR should stop giving exemptions to "all sorts of people" and only do so when absolute necessary. He added: "If home quarantine is safe enough we don't have to set up designated quarantine hotels. The policies are contradictory,"

Leung also criticized authorities for failing to prevent imported cases from entering the community though officials said repeatedly they would do so.

Meanwhile, Tam said Hong Kong's health code should be able to track users' whereabouts so mainland authorities' concerns over a border reopening can be eased.

He said an "itinerary card" has been adopted in the mainland by which authorities can easily trace close contacts of Covid cases. The system tracks the location of users' mobile phones and records travel history for 14 days.

Executive Council member and Business and Professionals Alliance for Hong Kong legislator Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung also said he was stopped from joining meetings after flying to Beijing on October 8 due to an unknown-source infection involving a Hong Kong airport freight worker.

And speaking at a Legco meeting, Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Erick Tsang Kwok-wai said Hong Kong is waiting for a second meeting with mainland experts. Tsang said the SAR administration will do its best to resume cross-border travel with the mainland, but a reopening cannot pose risks to the mainland.

But Macau, which resumes quarantine-free travel with the mainland today, was not required to add a tracing function in its health code.

Former Macau legislator Antonio Ng Kuok-cheong said Beijing trusts Macau people to voluntarily make health declarations "because Macau citizens are honest."

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