SAR must strive for reopening of border as fifth COVID wave ebbs

The first sign of dawn finally appears in Hong Kong, which has been under the fifth wave of the COVID-19 outbreak for the better part of 2022. The central government’s effective support has been exactly what the special administrative region needs — from guidance to materials, experts and facilities. All walks of life in Hong Kong also have answered the call and put in their collective efforts. On April 21, the SAR government felt confident enough to start relaxing social distancing measures, and the city gradually sprang to life again.

Since the fifth wave of the pandemic broke out, the central government has granted whatever was requested by the SAR government and made every effort to shore up the weak links in the city’s pandemic fight. Experienced medical experts came to Hong Kong to provide guidance. The seaborne expressway from the Chinese mainland to Hong Kong was opened within a short period of time to stabilize food supplies. Mobile cabin hospitals were built at “China speed”. I am particularly touched by the selfless doctors and nurses who left their homes on the mainland and traveled to Hong Kong to help treat COVID-19-infected patients. “Blood is thicker than water”; the bond between the two places is deep and strong.

Reopening the border with the mainland is now the single most urgent plea of Hong Kong’s business community. Many Hong Kong people have been on the mainland for a long time, not able to return and see their families in Hong Kong, as they do not want to take a long leave from work or their business. Talents on the mainland also are not willing to come to work in the SAR. That is why I am quite delighted that John Lee Ka-chiu, the chief executive-elect, has said one of his priorities will be to reopen the border with the mainland.

I hope a time schedule and plan for reopening the border will be put forward. I suggest people who intend to enter the mainland through Hong Kong should hold RT-PCR nucleic acid test reports with a CT value of at least 40, i.e., the same stringency as the mainland, within 24 hours and undergo another nucleic acid test when arriving at the checkpoint. This will give mainland authorities more confidence to let in people through Hong Kong.

Currently, more than 870,000 Hong Kong residents have already applied for the Hong Kong Health Code system, but this code is yet to be connected with the health codes used on the mainland. We should start working on the mutual recognition of health codes so that business activities and travel between the two places can resume as soon as the current outbreak subsides. Take my personal experience as an example: I used health codes in many cities on the mainland very smoothly. But upon my return to Hong Kong, I had to wait for a few hours to take a nucleic acid test at the airport because the health codes between the two places are not mutually recognized. I also suggest that Hong Kong should take reference from Guangdong province’s Yuekang code, to clearly indicate the time limit of nucleic acid tests with different colors.

There should be real-name registration for the LeaveHomeSafe app with a “travel code” added into it. For example, if someone in a certain place tests positive for the COVID-19 virus, the travel code of all those who have entered this place will turn yellow on LeaveHomeSafe and be subject to public health measures as required at the time. On the other hand, people who have a green travel code can continue to travel without any restrictions in the city. People should understand that this actually provides better protection as well as convenience.

Hong Kong should also start to plan reopening to the whole world. As an international city and business hub of the Asia-Pacific region, Hong Kong attracts many international talents, but this has been disrupted in the past two years because of the pandemic. We have senior executives in multinational companies either considering leaving or refusing to move here. Some international exhibitions and events were also relocated to other cities, affecting the city’s status as an international commercial center and exhibition hub. I hope the SAR government will put forward a road map for reopening the border so that the international business community can have a clear expectation of what is coming and plan accordingly. This will help boost the willingness to travel to and stay in Hong Kong.

Although Hong Kong’s fight against the pandemic finally sees light at the end of the channel, we must not lower our guard. The virus continues to evolve and likely will strike again. The SAR government must see and plan ahead, making precautions to mitigate risks, and taking all necessary preparations to stand ready for a quick, effective response. In this regard, I believe the fourth dose of vaccines should be offered to the public quickly. Special attention should be paid to the elderly, the most vulnerable group in the community, and to children to increase their vaccination rate. “Lying flat” is not an option. We have learned it the hard way in this wave of pandemic, much to the city’s grief. I am confident the central authorities will come to our support again if needed, but I am hopeful the city will be better prepared and do a better job.

The author is a Hong Kong deputy to the National People’s Congress.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.