Expanded reach looms for return to HK scheme

A scheme allowing Hongkongers to return from Guangdong without going through a 14-day quarantine will be expanded to those living outside the province, says Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor. Lam said she has already made proposals to the central and Guangdong provincial...

Jane Cheung

Friday, April 09, 2021

A scheme allowing Hongkongers to return from Guangdong without going through a 14-day quarantine will be expanded to those living outside the province, says Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor.

Lam said she has already made proposals to the central and Guangdong provincial governments about lifting the quarantine requirements on Hongkongers.

She bared this at yesterday's Legislative Council question and answer session, which was moved ahead from May so Lam could address lawmakers' inquiries on electoral reform, which will go through its first reading on Wednesday.

While most of the questions were about electoral reform, Roundtable lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun was concerned whether Lam would make quarantine-free travel to mainland and overseas one of the vaccination incentives.

Lam said: "We have been exploring, under what circumstances can we gradually - it is impossible for an immediate full resumption - allow people from both sides to cross the border without 14 days of quarantine."

The government introduced a Return2hk scheme in November, allowing Hongkongers in Guangdong to come back without quarantine as long as they tested negative three days before their return.

She said authorities are preparing to expand the scheme outside Guangdong.

"At the same time, if some mainlanders obtain a quota, they can also travel to Hong Kong," she said, adding an announcement will be made if authorities decide to do so.

Lam admitted the SAR's public response to vaccination is not that satisfactory, with the current rate at 7.5 percent.

As of Wednesday, 516,000 people have received their first dose, including 336,200 taking Sinovac and 179,800 getting BioNTech. Another 143,600 have completed both doses, including 104,100 with Sinovac and 19,500 with BioNTech.

She said: "For outbound incentives, it's not entirely under our control, but we have been working hard."

On travel bubbles, Lam said authorities have rebooted discussion with Singapore after the program scheduled to begin in November was put aside due to the emergence of the fourth wave.

Asked whether both Sinovac and BioNTech vaccines being used in Hong Kong would be accepted by other countries if inoculated people wish to travel, she said vaccines should be not politicized but be treated from a scientific perspective.

"BioNTech should be accepted by most places and I believe Chinese-made vaccines would also be approved by the World Health Organization later, as many countries have been inoculating with Chinese-made jabs," she said. "Once the WHO approves [Chinese-made vaccine] hopefully our work would be easier."

Meanwhile, sources said authorities are considering allowing vaccinated visitors at elderly homes and public rehabilitation hospitals. Visitors would still have to test negative in a rapid antigen test, they added.

But Li Fai from the Elderly Services Association of Hong Kong said such a relaxation should only be done when a bigger proportion of the population has been vaccinated to protect residents and staff.

"We should also see whether it would be difficult to execute, such as which rapid antigen test is reliable and whether we have enough stock of test kits," she said.

Hong Kong yesterday saw 10 Covid-19 cases including eight imported - five from the Philippines and three from Indonesia - and two local infections.

The only unknown-source local case is a 70-year-old woman living in Block Three, Oi Fai House of Yau Oi Estate in Tuen Mun.

She lives two floors above another 71-year-old woman who was announced to be infected on Wednesday.

Authorities said the 70-year-old, who lives alone, could have contracted the virus from her visitors as she barely left home due to her visual impairment.

Hong Kong's infection tally was 11,550, including 205 deaths.

jane.cheung@singtaonewscorp.com