Airport nightmare must be sorted out

Editorial | Mary Ma 29 Jun 2020

It's not the first time passengers have been stranded at Hong Kong international airport, but the pandemic is making the situation more complicated than ever before.

Of immediate concern is the health of the unfortunate travelers who have found themselves trapped.

Border closures by various countries - including China and Vietnam - to passengers from certain nations mean the situation will last as long as the borders remain closed unless those passengers are willing to return to the places from where they came.

The problem is that most are unwilling to do so. For example, of the 11 people who traveled from Dubai to Hong Kong in the hope of carrying on to the mainland, only one agreed to fly back to Dubai after they were told that transit from here was not possible.

Certainly, Emirates must be held responsible for allowing them to board the Dubai-Hong Kong flight in the first place.

But it's all the more puzzling that the rest of the group refused to return to where they had come from despite an offer by the airline which had carried them here.

The group had probably already made up their minds before boarding, even if the trip ended in stalemate at Hong Kong international airport.

In the midst of the pandemic, there are bound to be people who are desperate to return home, no matter what.

It was alarming to learn from the Airport Authority and airport workers that the incident was not an isolated one, although it may have involved the largest group so far.

For example, a mainland woman traveled from Britain to Hong Kong about two weeks ago, hoping to continue to travel to Zhuhai. The woman - reportedly suffering from a heart condition and diabetes - was considered most vulnerable to the coronavirus epidemic that is still infecting hundreds in Britain every day.

She has remained stuck in the airport ever since she was told she could not continue her journey.

Then, there is also the case of a Vietnamese man from Canada who has spent three months in the airport after missing the last scheduled connecting flight from Chek Lap Kok before Vietnam closed its border.

Why didn't all these passengers go back to Dubai, Britain and Canada? Because they don't have families there? Not necessarily.

For example, in the case of the woman who flew in from Britain, the Airport Authority said it had contacted her family there. Perhaps she thinks the airport offers safer refuge than being with than her family in badly hit Britain.

I have heard stories in local Chinese communities in London that they were prepared to catch a flight to Hong Kong for treatment there if they suspected they had contracted the virus.

The Airport Authority said the stranded passengers are staying in an isolated area of the airport and are given food and medication.

Nonetheless, the situation is far from satisfactory and could become dangerous if the numbers continue to increase. Putting them in an isolated corner of the airport can only be a temporary measure, not a solution.

The Airport Authority is only responsible for operating the airport, not making immigration policy. It is the government's responsibility to find a humane solution.

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