Quarantine-free welcome for mainlanders

Hong Kong is finally laying out the welcome mat for mainlanders with the “Come2hk” quarantine-free scheme starting next Wednesday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said yesterday.

And from today, Hong Kong residents in the mainland can return home without quarantine via the “Return2hk” scheme after it was suspended last month as the mainland grappled with the Covid-19 Delta variant.

At a press briefing before the Executive Council meeting yesterday, Lam said non-Hong Kong residents, including mainlanders and expatriates who live and work across the border and in Macau, will be able to come to Hong Kong via the Come2hk scheme without undergoing compulsory quarantine.

The scheme will be capped at a daily quota of 2,000, with 1,000 each coming through Shenzhen Bay Port and the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge Hong Kong Port, she said.

“We have been discussing the scheme for a long time, but had failed to launch it earlier because of the pandemic resurgence in Hong Kong or the mainland,” Lam said.

The Return2hk scheme for Hongkongers can be resumed after it was suspended last month, as the pandemic in the mainland is now under control, she said.

“Around 200,000 Hongkongers had returned to the SAR via the Return2hk scheme since it was launched in November, but none of them were infected. Therefore, we can resume the scheme with confidence,” Lam said.

But those from mainland areas listed as medium or high-risk places cannot return to the city through the quarantine-free scheme.

Mainland health authorities said there were no high-risk places in the mainland on Monday. But three residential estates in Yangzhou, Jiangsu, and Ruili, Yunnan, are listed as medium-risk places.

Pro-Beijing lawmaker Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung of the Business and Professionals Alliance welcomed the resumption of Return2hk scheme, saying it could help residents in Hong Kong, Guangdong and Macau visit their relatives or go on business trips.

Lam also suggested the authorities should set up a “Greater Bay Area Corridor” to allow those who are fully vaccinated to travel to the area without being quarantined.

There could be a weekly quota of 2,000 to 5,000 for the corridor, Lam said. Travelers could be required to take point-to-point transportation and stay in designated areas.

There will be a daily quota of 6,000 for the Return2hk scheme, with 3,000 coming in through Shenzhen Bay Port, 2,000 through the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge and 1,000 through the airport.

Hongkongers who wish to return home should register online starting today.

The Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce yesterday welcomed the Come2hk scheme, saying it is a significant step toward the reopening of the border with the mainland.

“We hope that the quota of 2,000 people per day will be expanded in the near future,” said chairman Peter Wong Tung-shun. “We also hope that the scheme will become reciprocal so that Hong Kong residents and mainlanders can travel between Hong Kong and other mainland cities without the need for quarantine.”

But the executive director of the Hong Kong Tourism Association, Timothy Chui Ting-pong, said the Come2hk scheme could offer little help to the tourism industry because mainlanders will still have to undergo a 14-day quarantine followed by a seven-day self-monitoring period when they return home from Hong Kong.

Separately, Carrie Lam said yesterday that domestic helpers arriving from overseas will be allowed to undergo the 21-day quarantine in 800 rooms at the Penny’s Bay quarantine center from September 20.

Bookings of the quarantine rooms for helpers would open a week in advance and the price would be no more than HK$500 a night, Lam said.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong recorded six imported cases from the United States, the United Kingdom, the Philippines and Tanzania yesterday, taking the SAR’s tally to 12,130 cases, with 212 deaths.

All six patients had been vaccinated and were carrying the L452R mutant strain seen in the Delta variant.

About 1,340 residents of Lohas Park Le Prestige’s Tower 2, Phase 2A, in Tseung Kwan O tested negative for Covid-19 during a lockdown on Monday night after a 42-year-old woman living there tested positive following her return from the United States on Sunday.

All places the patient went to during the incubation period, including Festival Walk and Romantic Hotel in Kowloon Tong, were subject to compulsory tests. People who visited the places must take tests by today.

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