Hong Kong mulls quarantine service for visitors to China: Report

Designated taxis for travellers heading into quarantine at Hong Kong International Airport on Aug 8, 2022. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) - The Hong Kong government is studying whether travellers trying to enter mainland China could be allowed to complete their quarantine requirements in the city before crossing the border in a closed-loop system, according to a local media report.

Hong Kong Chief Secretary Eric Chan will discuss the plan with local lawmakers on Wednesday (Aug 17), Hong Kong Economic Times wrote in a column, citing unidentified people.

Hong Kong authorities plan to discuss measures to ease border bottlenecks with those in the mainland, the report said. The service would ease the quarantine logjam that has crimped returns to China and mitigate a major roadblock for Hong Kong's economic recovery by making family or business visits easier.

Travellers from Hong Kong now trying to get into China can participate in a lottery for one of 2,000 daily tickets to cross the land border into the neighbouring Chinese city of Shenzhen or secure a scarce, highly sought-after and expensive airplane ticket.

The plan to facilitate travel to mainland China comes after Hong Kong reduced the amount of time people arriving from abroad must spend in hotel quarantine to three days from seven last week, a bolder-than-expected easing of its strict Covid-19 travel curbs.

Hong Kong's Chief Executive John Lee - sworn into office on July 1 - previously said some of his top priorities are to restore the city's international ties and to resume normal travel with the mainland.

Closed-loop systems typically require employees to live in hotels or dormitories, sealing them off from their families and the wider community while they are working to reduce the chance of exposure to the virus. They've frequently been deployed in mainland China to keep factories running during a spate of recent lockdowns, with Tesla Inc.'s Gigafactory requiring workers sleep on factory floors during the protracted Shanghai lockdown.

Travel resumption with mainland China is key to the Asian financial hub's recovery. Those visitors have fueled demand in the retail and hospitality sectors for years, and many Hong Kong residents have families living in mainland China.

Economists recently downgraded their forecasts for Hong Kong's economy, predicting it could contract for the third time in four years in 2022 after data showed Covid-19 restrictions and a slump in trade are weighing down growth.

China, meanwhile, cut its travel quarantine by half in June. New arrivals need to spend seven days in a quarantine facility, and then monitor their health at home for a further three days, according to a revised government protocol.

Despite the recent easing of Covid-19 travel measures in mainland China and Hong Kong, both remain among the most isolated places in a world that's largely living with the virus.

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