Quarantine move a necessary step

Editorial | Mary Ma 27 Oct 2021

Will Australian actress and Hollywood star Nicole Kidman be happy to come to Hong Kong again, but without the quarantine-free privilege she was accorded the last time she spent here filming an Amazon television series?

Although it's anyone's guess, the chance of her returning is much less likely if she will have to spend up to three weeks self-isolating in a designated hotel doing little other than being glued to her phone or performing yoga in front of the window.

The lengthy quarantine confinement tests everyone's mental strength.

The actress and her peers have now lost the privilege after the government decided to remove all quarantine exemptions, with the exception of a strictly limited few providing emergency services or daily necessities to the SAR.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor failed to mention the Kidman controversy when she announced the decision yesterday, going straight to the point that the tightening was meant to inspire confidence in the mainland that it would be safe to reopen the border with the SAR.

When the Hong Kong government sought to bridge the gap on reopening the border, its mainland counterparts must have expressed concern about the exemptions during the talks that had been ongoing for awhile.

As the Kidman controversy attracted the attention of pro-establishment lawmakers and the public back in August, it was also bound to draw the attention of mainland officials to the provision allowing some non-essential individuals to be exempt from one of the world's strictest quarantine protocols.

The foreign chambers of commerce have expressed legitimate concerns about the strict quarantine measures.

The dilemma facing them also faces others, including the Lam administration, as nobody knows how long the city's de-facto self-isolation will last.

If the government can be proactive in overcoming the mainland's concerns, will it be possible to reopen the border with the mainland sooner rather than later?

Then, would the short-term pain be more than compensated by the long-term outcome?

Lam has made it clear that, unless the border with the mainland reopens, the government will not ease travel restrictions for international passengers.

The lifting of the quarantine exemptions changes the plot not just for Kidman but also foreign business executives.

When HSBC chairman Mark Tucker or his financial peers fly in the next time for economic summits, they will have to bring forward their itinerary by up to three weeks for quarantine isolation.

The short-term pains are bound to disappoint foreign chambers of commerce.

However, the upside of this is that it may help persuade the mainland to agree to reopening the border for quarantine-free travel with Hong Kong.

The issue of exemption is rather minor in the ongoing deliberation between Hong Kong and the mainland and can be readily overcome by the SAR government - but there remain other more difficult issues to be resolved.

There is no alternative to keeping negotiations inching forward by addressing the mainland's concerns one by one.

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