After enduring strict Covid-19 measures that kept him from seeing his wife and friends for more than two years, cross-border Hong Kong truck driver Liu Kun-ming has made the painful decision to shut down his transport company. “I want to get out as soon as possible,” said the 53-year-old who has been transporting goods from mainland China to Hong Kong for more than two decades. “It’s hopeless and there’s nothing much I can do.” Liu said he could no longer stomach the “inhumane” measures imposed by mainland officials on cross-border drivers, with the recent outbreak of the Omicron variant making conditions worse for many truckers. So far this month, 87 out of an estimated 300 drivers have tested positive. Many other truckers deemed to be their close contacts were placed under compulsory quarantine in Shenzhen. As mainland authorities tightened social-distancing requirements for all drivers, Liu decided the time had come to quit. Hong Kong cross-border truck drivers ‘confused’ by Guangdong Covid rule changes Despite Liu and his mainland wife having a home in Shenzhen, he has been confined since the pandemic began in early 2020 to a designated hotel for drivers provided by authorities across the border and subject to strict rules while at work. “I will deal with closing my company first, then think about my next steps,” he said, adding that the current situation would lead to a shortage of drivers. The Covid-19 outbreak among cross-border drivers has already affected vegetable supplies to Hong Kong, resulting in prices rising sharply at one stage. The city previously received 91 per cent of its vegetable supplies, 98 per cent of poultry and 76 per cent of live freshwater fish from the mainland. But the government on Saturday said Hong Kong was only receiving about 70 per cent of its regular supply of vegetables and 60 per cent of the chilled poultry and meat. The crisis led Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to suggest importing food from the mainland by sea to stabilise supplies. Meanwhile, Liu said he and drivers like him were dismayed that their working conditions had not received any attention. He said he had not seen his relatives and friends in Shenzhen for more than two years. Although his wife did administration work at his company, they had little face-to-face interaction. “She is only allowed to pass some documents to my work site, and that is when we can see each other briefly. We haven’t had a proper meal or spent time together in the last two years,” he said. Liu said he counted himself lucky that he and his wife did not have children, as he had heard of several drivers who had quit earlier because they wanted to see their children. Previously, Liu was able to travel back to Hong Kong, where his mother and two siblings live, but officials have not approved his request to return until at least next week. As part of efforts to contain the Omicron outbreak, the drivers need approval from both sides when making an appointment to cross the border. This includes obtaining a declaration on the drivers’ side and a review by an official at the border. Hong Kong drivers are also barred from loading goods on the mainland and must rely on the staff at designated interchange venues to do the job. Some have temporary approval to pick up cargo in Shenzhen and return to Hong Kong, but they are not allowed to leave the truck cabin. These measures could mean drivers being confined inside their trucks for six to seven hours, said a 60-year-old Hong Kong driver surnamed Cheung. “We cannot open the vehicle door or have proper meals, so we can only eat bread and biscuits,” said Cheung, who has been a driver for more than 30 years. “If you leave your vehicle without permission, your licence can be revoked.” To use the toilet, one had to drive over to officials present and ask permission, he added. Cheung said these harsh conditions had pushed a growing number to quit, and he knew of at least eight drivers who had left since Lunar New Year on February 1. “With Covid-19 cases rising, the mainland doesn’t care about our concerns,” he said. Hong Kong facing record 7,000 Covid-19 cases, 7,000 more preliminary positive Hong Kong unionists also appeared to be at a loss about ways to help the drivers. Stanley Chiang Chi-wai, chairman of the Hong Kong Land Transport Council, said that with mainland authorities now mostly concerned with controlling the pandemic, “the Hong Kong government can only cooperate and has no right to speak”. Chan Dik-sau, chairman of the Container Transportation Employees General Union, said it was not surprising drivers were frustrated by the restrictions but he hoped the Hong Kong government could get the ongoing fifth wave of infections under control so the mainland could relax the rules. A Transport and Housing Bureau representative said the government had provided financial help to the drivers, including a one-off subsidy of HK$10,000 to each one in its latest HK$27 billion (US$3.46 billion) round of pandemic relief funding. The mainland and Hong Kong governments have also subsidised fees for compulsory Covid-19 testing to ease the drivers’ financial burden. The bureau pledged to remain in touch with the industry, provide appropriate help and maintain close contact with the Guangdong government while waiting for the pandemic to ease. “Afterwards, the mainland authorities can consider reviewing the relevant control measures and balance them with the operational needs of the industry,” the representative said.