Hong Kong’s leader said on Friday that its boundary with the rest of China could reopen as early as February if it maintains control of coronavirus infections, the former British colony’s government broadcaster reported.
Carrie Lam, chief executive of Hong Kong, told a forum that the two governments would stick to their zero Covid-19 policies, RTHK reported.
Despite barely recording any local coronavirus cases in recent months, authorities in the Asian financial hub have tightened quarantine and patient discharge rules to convince Beijing to allow cross-border travel.
A spokesman for the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, the central government’s authority in the city, said on Thursday that the two governments were nearly at a consensus on reopening, adding: “It can be said that the two sides are meeting each other halfway.”
However, Hong Kong is required to follow China’s lead in retaining strict travel curbs, in contrast to a global trend of opening up and living with the coronavirus.
“The government will continue to strengthen anti-epidemic measures with the target of zero infection in order to foster favourable conditions for the early resumption of quarantine-free travel between the Mainland and Hong Kong,” a Hong Kong government spokesman said.
He added that Hong Kong would continue to “put forward various anti-epidemic measures”, despite frequent criticism of heavy handed rules that critics say are not science or evidence based.
Late last month, a leading epidemiologist labelled a new 14-day quarantine requirement for recovered Covid-19 patients as “unethical”.
Ben Cowling of the University of Hong Kong said the requirement was “ridiculous”. His criticism prompted a sharp rebuke from the government, which has been increasingly prickly over criticism since a Beijing-backed crackdown on political dissent.
“Measures taken by the government for the community’s interest must not be called ‘unethical’,” food and health secretary Sophia Chan wrote in a letter to the South China Morning Post.
- George Russell