‘Dual quarantine-free travel’ should remain HK’s ultimate objective

Despite improved vaccination rates and the widespread use of new therapeutic drugs, the global outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be volatile because of the variants of SARS-CoV-2, and Hong Kong is still fighting an uphill battle with approximately 9,000 new cases per day lately. 

Facing this mounting challenge, the chief executive, Mr John Lee Ka-chiu, has reiterated that Hong Kong will not adopt the “lying flat” approach in terms of preventive and anti-pandemic measures.

Adhering to the pursuit of “dynamic-zero infection”, the Lee administration has continued to implement the anti-pandemic strategy of “preventing the importation of cases and the resurgence of domestic infections”. Recently, Hong Kong has implemented scientific and evidence-based measures, such as the “3+4” quarantine formula and the “red and amber codes” system to prevent imported cases from entering the community, aside from maintaining or, if circumstances warrant, tightening social-distancing measures, alleviating the mounting challenge to our medical system, promoting vaccination facilitation, and expanding vaccination coverage with a particular focus on the elderly and the young as high-risk groups.

As a special administrative region of China, Hong Kong has millions of residents and corporations that are closely connected with the Chinese mainland. Hong Kong’s economy and people’s livelihoods are tightly intertwined with those of the mainland. The past two-plus years of restrictions on travel have clearly affected many aspects of the local economy and people’s livelihoods. Without a road map for “dual quarantine-free travel” (i.e., quarantine-free travel to and from the mainland and the rest of the world), how could we convince the international community and local residents that we are able to maintain the unique strength of “enjoying the backing of the motherland while staying connected with the world”, an unparalleled advantage over any country or city in the region? Hence, the importance of a road map for a quarantine-free travel plan with the mainland or, at least, a risk-based and well-calibrated quarantine approach, cannot be understated.

To this end, the chief executive has reportedly continued to communicate with the mainland authorities, striving to minimize the inconvenience of the current quarantine mechanism with the mainland, such as gradually increasing the daily quota for cross-boundary travelers at the border control points, widening the scope of the “compassionate quota”, studying the feasibility of using quarantine facilities in Hong Kong or a “reverse quarantine” based on the mainland’s standards, aligning with the mainland’s health codes system, and so on. People have witnessed the pragmatism and proactiveness of the Lee administration since it took office in July. The chief executive has expressly told the public that Hong Kong will pursue the dual objectives of reconnecting with the mainland and the rest of the world quarantine-free. It is good to know that the chief executive on Thursday met online with high-ranking officials from Guangdong province and reached a preliminary consensus on a “reverse quarantine” arrangement for Hong Kong residents heading for the mainland. 

The SAR government must, with an utmost sincerity and determination, continue to advocate the importance of “dual quarantine-free travel” for Hong Kong and come up with various options and plans to consult with the mainland authorities with a view to agreeing upon a set of mutually acceptable plans/a roadmap, and jointly soliciting the support of the central authorities, by articulating the unique position of Hong Kong in the country and the world, which Vice-Premier Han Zheng clearly acknowledged in the opening address of the Belt and Road Summit. 

To consolidate and further enhance Hong Kong’s role as an international financial, transportation and trading center as well as an international aviation hub, and to strengthen its status as a global offshore renminbi business hub, an international asset management center and a risk management center, we must clearly articulate to the mainland authorities that we will deepen collaborations at all levels with Shenzhen and the rest of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area (including, without limitation, a possible Qianhai plan 2.0, the Loop plan, and the Shenzhen-Hong Kong Border Economic Belt).

To maintain its notable unique strength of “enjoying the backing of the motherland while staying connected with the world”, Hong Kong must strive to achieve “dual quarantine-free travel” in the not-too-distant future.

The author is general counsel of Bank of China (Hong Kong) and a member of the Legislative Council from the Election Committee Constituency.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.