John Lee, Hong Kong’s chief executive-elect, is seen at a news conference in Hong Kong on Sunday. Photo: Bloomberg
by SCMP Editorial
by SCMP Editorial

Hong Kong-mainland border reopening will be major test for Lee

  • Conditions relating to such a move are worth revisiting, particularly with the increase in vaccinations on both sides, and the use of contact tracing and risk exposure alerts

Just days ago, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor was still saying she would “not give a single inch” to requests from consulates and business chambers to ease travel restrictions.

But on Sunday, the outgoing leader said she would be worried if the city was still adhering to the existing border controls by the end of the year.

The public may be excused for being confused as the world strives to put the coronavirus pandemic behind it and open up.

Lam’s remarks underline the challenges in reopening the border with the mainland and beyond. However strong the demand for more travel convenience, it all depends on whether the pandemic can be curbed.

The government was so close to striking a deal with the mainland last year thanks to a long period of zero infections, but then along came the fifth wave of the coronavirus earlier this year.

The Post is one of among many voices calling for fewer travel restrictions, in particular the mandatory hotel quarantine for arrivals.

Even though the duration has been scaled back to seven days, the red tape in securing a hotel room continues to deter business and leisure travel. The matter is further complicated by a recent resurgence in infections, some 1,186 local cases yesterday.

Lam has also ruled out relaxing travel rules while the city is gearing up for a possible visit by President Xi Jinping during celebrations marking the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China.

Whether the rules will be loosened or tightened afterwards remains to be seen. But it makes sense to revisit the previous conditions when assessing the feasibility of reopening the border.

Even though zero infections may seem difficult to achieve soon, the vaccination rates on both sides have since increased.


Hong Kong's travel restrictions are increasingly difficult to justify

Hong Kong's travel restrictions are increasingly difficult to justify

Contact tracing and risk exposure alerts have also been enhanced following the mandatory use of the vaccine pass and the “Leave Home Safe” app for entering restaurants and other premises. The new circumstances provide the basis to cautiously reopen the border.

Chief executive-designate John Lee Ka-chiu has rightly made it one of his top priorities. The State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office has also put it on the to-do list for the new government.

Lee said his team was “result-oriented” and had a strong ability to get things done. The reopening of the border shall be a major test.