HK revs up for travel talks with Macau

Finance | Jane Cheung 21 Jun 2021

Hong Kong will be able to start negotiations with Macau over reopening borders if there is no local Covid-19 case today that would make it the 14th consecutive day of no local infections.

Authorities are also considering to relax social distancing curbs when they expire on Wednesday, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said.

Hong Kong yesterday reported no local infection - the 13th day in a row - though there was one imported case from Russia that took the city's tally to 11,887 cases, including 210 deaths.

The Macanese government has said it can start discussion on allowing Hongkongers to travel there without quarantine once it manages to maintain zero local infection for 14 consecutive days. Macau, on the other hand, recorded its 11th straight day without a local infection yesterday.

As Hong Kong can potentially meet the criterion today, infectious disease specialist Leung Chi-chiu suggested that any border reopening with Macau should only cater to vaccinated travelers.

"Vaccination offers extra protection and it can also be an incentive to attract people to get the jabs," he said.

And any scheme with Macau should come with a daily quota, Leung added, to avoid a sudden surge in people crossing borders.

He said the border reopening talks with Guangdong should be put on hold as the province has seen sporadic cases in various cities, including Shenzhen and Guangzhou, since last month.

Cheung wrote on his blog that authorities consider three factors - development of the outbreak, vaccination rates and the implementation of vaccine bubbles at restaurants and premises - when reviewing if current social distancing measures can be relaxed.

The relaxation is expected to come in a smaller scale and mostly targeting inoculated people as even 14 days of zero local infections - according to government adviser David Hui Shu-cheong from Chinese University - does not guarantee the community is completely safe.

Hui said the vaccination rate remains low in Hong Kong and cited the experience of Singapore when even one imported case led to a new wave of outbreaks. He believes significant relaxations will only come when Hong Kong reaches herd immunity - typically when vaccine coverage is at least 70 percent.

The first stage of vaccine bubble policies has been put in place since April 29 to relax social distancing measures at restaurants according to four operation models based on inoculations of workers and customers.

Authorities previewed on May 31 that it will allow up to 12 customers sharing a restaurant table if two-thirds of them have been vaccinated while the rest are unfit for the jab due to age and health conditions.

As of yesterday, around 1.94 million Hongkongers - 28.4 percent of the 6.84 million population above 12 years old - have had at least one jab, including 844,400 injected with the Beijing-made Sinovac and 1.1 million receiving the German-made BioNTech/Fosun.

Among them, 1.28 million - 18.7 percent - have completed both shots.

Meanwhile, elderly home staff will have to undergo Covid-19 tests more frequently - every 10 days instead of 14 - starting on Friday, Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong said.

He said the tests may become weekly in the future and authorities will only accept results from swab tests done by public and private laboratories, instead of deep-throat saliva samples.

The monthly HK$200 allowance for tests will also be replaced by a one-off HK$800 subsidy for those who have been vaccinated.

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