Small but welcome cross-border step

Editorial | Mary Ma 9 Sep 2021

It was undoubtedly a small step when Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said mainland and Macau residents will be allowed to enter Hong Kong quarantine-free from the middle of next week via new scheme known as Come2hk.

The name could be confusing since there is an existing scheme called Return2hk.

While the latter applies to Hong Kong residents only, Come2hk is designed for non-Hong Kong residents from the mainland and Macau.

Those in charge of developing the schemes should come up with a better name for the new one to differentiate it from the other.

Come2hk isn't short of critics. For example, Federation of Trade Unions chairman Wong Kwok-kin and DAB chairwoman Starry Lee Wai-king were both unhappy with about it.

They complained it did not go far to cover enough people who want to come to Hong Kong - despite the drawback that these travelers will still have to go through quarantine upon returning back home.

Critics should know it was not that the Lam administration didn't want to tune up the scheme, but that the mainland - or Guangdong in particular - had reservations about it.

Lam said her government had been talking about the issue for a long time but was not able to launch the scheme sooner due to the rebound in cases in Hong Kong or the mainland.

Isn't it obvious that, if government officials had been blaming sporadic cases for the delay in the past, they have now stopped mentioning altogether the need to achieve zero infection first as a pre-condition?

After all, the record of zero local infection has been achieved for awhile here.

The mainland's worry is readily understood - it's clear the central government wants the matter to be resolved locally between Hong Kong and Guangdong.

It is a difficult question for local mainland officials who are extremely sensitive to the emergence of even a single case as this could endanger their political careers. The quota of 2,000 non-Hong Kong residents a day - 1,000 at the Shenzhen Bay port and 1,000 at the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge port - under the Come2hk scheme is truly small.

Too little, in fact, to generate any meaningful effect on local economic activities.

But this is only the beginning.

It can be imagined that, with such a small quota, only those with the means and needs will use it - including those who need to go on business trips or urgently see their relatives.

Some may also find it convenient to carry on to other destinations for business or personal reasons after stopping in the SAR.

Lam said more than 200,000 residents have returned to Hong Kong via Return2hk since the scheme was launched in early August - and there was not a single confirmed infection among them.

By the same token, mainland officials may become more confident later in opening up their side of the border after seeing no one being infected upon returning home from Hong Kong after visiting here via Come2hk.

It is a target that cannot be achieved in a fortnight.

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