Hong Kong’s pandemic Catch-22: how to reopen international and mainland borders
- Hong Kong is an international city, yet highly dependent on the flow of goods and people from the mainland
- We face a huge challenge: how to open up to international travel while maintaining zero infections so our border with the mainland can reopen
To open or not to open borders? This is the conundrum facing policymakers around the world. What is the right equilibrium point at which to balance economic and public health? At some point, all countries have to open their borders to survive economically.
Globally, experts agree that vaccination is the best defence against the virus, providing a pathway for countries to open up while protecting populations against imported cases. Canada has adopted this strategy.
On the other hand, we are an externally oriented economy and international financial centre which needs open borders with easy international travel (and the inevitable consequence of imported cases). We find ourselves in a Catch-22.
I have spoken to multiple businesspeople who have recently moved their executives out of their Hong Kong offices to the mainland, because of the inability to travel freely between the two places. This trend is not good for Hong Kong.
We face an immense challenge: how we open up borders to international travel, while maintaining zero locally transmitted infections so our border with the mainland can reopen.
However, the clearest path to pre-pandemic normality still remains vaccination and achieving herd immunity. Hong Kong has a long way to go on this front, as only 22 per cent of our population is fully vaccinated, with 33 per cent having received one dose.
The highly contagious Delta strain is posing a threat globally and knocking at our door. A Cleveland Clinic study showed that 99.7 per cent of hospital admissions for the coronavirus occurred among those who were unvaccinated or had had only one jab. Will this and the Delta variant motivate Hongkongers to get vaccinated to protect themselves and others?
If we don’t open our borders together with everyone else, Hong Kong risks isolation and getting left behind socially and economically. Can we afford to live in a bubble for a protracted period of time? I think not.
Bernard Chan is convenor of Hong Kong’s Executive Council