Reopening crunch looms in Shenzhen decider

Top News | Wallis Wang 24 Nov 2021

Hong Kong officials will meet their mainland counterparts in Shenzhen tomorrow to discuss the long-awaited quarantine-free travel across the border, after a mainland delegation completed their four-day inspection tour in the SAR, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said yesterday.

On the last day of their visit to inspect the SAR infection-control measures, the delegation met local officials yesterday to exchange opinions.

That was after visits to a Quarry Bay pharmacy and a Heng Fa Chuen clinic in the morning to inspect community pharmacy services and the vaccination arrangement in clinics.

They also visited Hon Wah College in Siu Sai Wan - to learn about class arrangements and social distancing measures - and the community vaccination center at Sun Yat Sen Memorial Park Sports Centre.

Lam said she was informed by the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office that a second border reopening meeting with mainland officials and experts will be held in Shenzhen tomorrow. Chief Secretary John Lee Ka-chiu will head the SAR side.

Sources said the meeting will focus on technical issues, instead of health and medical ones, and so SAR health experts were not invited to attend.

Mainland health experts are understood to be planning to propose improvement measures. They will then decide on the resumption of cross-border travel after the meeting.

Mainland concerns about SAR anti-epidemic work, like at the airport and quarantine hotels and centers, were eased during the trip, Lam said. However, even with stringent measures against imported cases, one cannot, she said, guarantee that the community is Covid-proof. Therefore, the quota-based quarantine-free travel scheme must come with a circuit-breaking system.

Lam also said experts from both sides are discussing technical issues, including whether a health code system will be needed.

"I learned that the discussion went well and mainland experts also realized that Hong Kong has a very different situation compared to the mainland," she said.

Respiratory specialist Leung Chi-chiu said he believed that quarantine-free travel will be suspended if there are two or more cases with unknown sources in the SAR.

Executive councillor Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung urged the SAR to clarify the suspension system in detail, including whether the border would close again if there are untraceable cases.

The authorities should also tell the public how they will handle re-positive cases.

National People's Congress standing committee delegate Tam Yiu-chung said he has told Macau Chief Executive Ho Iat-seng that Hongkongers are hoping for travel between the two SARs again.

The news came as Hong Kong announced late Monday that all arrivals must undergo nasal and throat swabs as deep throat saliva specimens will no longer be accepted.

Hong Kong yesterday saw six new imported cases from Pakistan, the United Kingdom and the United States, taking the city's tally to 12,411 cases with 213 deaths. Five cases carried the L452R mutation.

One of the patients, a 27-year-old woman from the UK, left on November 7 after testing negative the day before. She tested positive upon her return on Sunday.

Her residence at Winning House in Sheung Wan and workplace on the 37th floor of the International Commerce Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui, as well as places she had visited during the incubation period will be subjected to compulsory tests.

Flights from Dubai and Bangkok operated by Emirates have also been banned from landing from yesterday to December 6, after three passengers were confirmed to be infected.

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