AP NEWS TEST SITE
ADVERTISEMENT

Coronavirus: Hong Kong ‘no longer’ in travel bubble talks with other places, goal to maintain zero infections

August 21, 2021 GMT

Hong Kong is “no longer in travel talks” with other places because of differences in approach to containing Covid-19, the city’s health minister has revealed.

Sophia Chan Siu-chee on Saturday said the government was still aiming to strike a balance between residents’ expectation of “zero infections”, while avoiding becoming “completely cut off” from the outside world.

The long-awaited travel bubble with Singapore was ditched for good on Thursday, after the city state moved towards a policy of “living with the virus”, in contrast to Hong Kong’s stricter approach.

ADVERTISEMENT

Do you have questions about the biggest topics and trends from around the world? Get the answers with SCMP Knowledge, our new platform of curated content with explainers, FAQs, analyses and infographics brought to you by our award-winning team.

Hong Kong recorded three imported cases on Saturday from Kazakhstan, Venezuela and Nigeria, bringing the overall infection tally to 12,052 with 212 related fatalities.

“From my knowledge, Hong Kong is no longer in (travel bubble) talks with other countries, although the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau might have more details on the matter,” Chan told a radio programme. The Post has contacted the bureau for comment.

Chan said being able to discuss travel bubbles with other places required a similar containment of the coronavirus pandemic in both places, as well as similar infection control strategies.

But Chan said although reopening the borders was important, it would not be ideal if any imported variant cases went into the community because of relaxed rules.

“Zero infections is still our target and we have basically achieved that for now,” she said. “We believe that many Hongkongers also have such an expectation towards the government.

“A balance needs to be struck, although Hong Kong as an international city should not be completely cut off from the outside world.”

In March, commerce minister Edward Yau Tang-wah said the government had written to Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, Australia and New Zealand to explore quarantine-free travel bubble arrangements, with progress dependent on how the pandemic developed.

On Thursday, the European Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong urged authorities to relax strict quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated travellers, warning a recent tightening of the rules could threaten the city’s status as an international business hub.

ADVERTISEMENT

Earlier this week, the government elevated 15 countries to its “high-risk” category, meaning significantly tougher entry requirements and the lengthening of quarantine periods to 21 days for anyone arriving from those destinations.

Australia has been moved from low to medium risk, with fully vaccinated travellers now facing two weeks of isolation.

The chamber said many countries where the virus had recently surged had seen far fewer critical cases and deaths than last year, because of their accelerated vaccination programmes, adding their airports remained open and vaccinated travellers were not required to quarantine.

The health minister was also asked about the quarantine exemption granted to Hollywood star Nicole Kidman and some of her crew ahead of the filming of Expats, a television drama for Amazon.

Chan reiterated previous government defence of the controversial decision, pointing out that the actress had arrived from Australia on August 12, when it was still deemed low risk.

She added that people flying in from “medium or high- risk” countries were less likely to be granted exemptions because of the higher accompanying risks.

Meanwhile, the Airport Authority on Friday said targeted groups of workers who were not inoculated would not be able to call upon negative coronavirus tests or medical exemptions from September 1, while requiring all staff to get at least one vaccine dose.

Airport chiefs said employees falling under the new rules included those handling high-risk cargo or having “unavoidable close range contact” with arrival and transfer passengers or airline crew. The measures also apply to airline and ground handling staff, as well as those involved in in-flight catering, cargo loading, and cleaning.

Chan, who described the plan as “reasonable”, said if certain airport staff members could not get vaccinated because of health reasons, they could be transferred to lower-risk positions outside the restricted area.

Earlier in the week, an unvaccinated 47-year-old worker at an airline lounge was found to be infected with a coronavirus variant. Officials said she was likely to have caught Covid-19 from transit passengers, prompting calls for authorities to consider further tightening control measures at the airport.

This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia. For more SCMP stories, please download our mobile app, follow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook.

Copyright (c) 2021. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.