Winter Games key to border reopening

Editorial | Mary Ma 25 Oct 2021

New Zealand has set an extremely high bar - 90 percent of its population fully vaccinated - for it to move from lockdowns to freedom.

The country is currently just under 60 percent fully vaccinated.

Although the threshold is extremely high, it marks a fundamental policy shift from eliminating Covid to accepting the prospect of coexisting with the virus in light of its ability to mutate to produce various variants.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's statement was symbolic in the ongoing debate between virus eradication and coexistence.

This is a choice facing not only New Zealand but all governments maintaining a zero-case policy - including Hong Kong.

The SAR has been in discussions with the mainland on reopening the border for quite awhile but little progress has been made. If there had been some progress, it must have been too minor for the public to be aware of.

When will the border reopen to quarantine-free travel between the SAR and the mainland?

The prospect of this is increasingly hanging in the balance in light of two factors that are fast approaching: first, the 2022 Winter Olympics due to take place in Beijing and Zhangjiakou from February 4-20; and second, the two political conferences being held in the capital afterwards, which are expected to decide whether President Xi Jinping will stay in power or not.

In terms of Beijing's political culture, these two events are so important that not even the slightest missteps will be tolerated. Responsible cadres face losing their jobs or even being punished further if an outbreak occurs in their districts.

Despite the intolerant approach maintained by Beijing towards the virus, local outbreaks have continued to occur here and there in different provinces.

In one of the most reported incidents, a couple who tested positive for Covid had traveled across the country during the National Day golden holidays, prompting a quick alert.

Meanwhile, the SAR's continuous record of no local cases was disrupted after a cargo worker at the airport tested positive.

Beijing's extremely cautious approach to eliminating the virus was exemplified by its refusal to let even Hong Kong's National People's Congress standing committee member Tam Yiu-chung fly to Beijing following the airport worker case.

It's pretty clear that Beijing does not see the need to speed up talks to reopen the border with Hong Kong.

For the time being, the talks will continue but without the sense of urgency that the Hong Kong side would like to see - at least not until after the Winter Olympics and, probably, the two political conferences.

During this period, the two sides may hammer out differences on the health-code systems in use here and the mainland.

The SAR's health-code system is voluntary and it is up to the users to report their movements, whereas the mainland's is compulsory and automatically recording users' whereabouts.

It's a gap that should not be too wide to bridge.

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