Passengers traveling from mainland China will be segregated at Hong Kong’s airport, in a move aimed at convincing the Chinese government to reopen its border with the city as early as next month.
The airport will be split into different zones to avoid cross-infection among inbound passengers. The proposal was initially reported in the South China Morning Post and confirmed by Food and Health Secretary Sophia Chan on Thursday.
“The airport is a high-risk place as there are so many cases around the world and nearly half of those imported are detected there,” Chan said in an interview with Radio Television Hong Kong.
“We are considering segregating tourists from the mainland and other places to different zones or more at the airport.”
Details are still being worked out before the plan is confirmed on November 10 and implemented soon after, according to the SCMP, which cited unidentified people briefed on the proposal last week.
“The segregation and infection-containment effort at the airport have to be precise,” Chan said, adding that some divisions are already in place. “We are now studying further segregation, like testing different visitors at different areas in the airport.”
The SCMP reported that Hong Kong International Airport would be effectively divided into ‘domestic’ and international zones, with Gate 24 – about one-third of the way along Terminal 1’s concourse – serving as the diving line.
The proposal would see airport and airline staff assigned to either side with no mixing allowed during working hours, according to sources briefed last week on the plans.
A ‘green zone’ from Gates 1 though 24 would be used for mainland-bound travellers and flights; an ‘orange zone’ from Gates 25 though 71 would be used for travellers and flights not bound for the mainland, which is now largely restricted to transits on Cathay Pacific’s international network.
Cathay Pacific currently uses both of its The Wing lounges for passengers, with The Wing First assigned to mainland travellers and The Wing Business for transit passengers.
However, as The Wing is located in what will be the green zone, there’s speculation that the airline could reopen one of its flagship The Pier lounges – in the orange zone – for non-mainland and transit travellers.
China travel by December?
Hong Kong travelers could be allowed to visit mainland China as early as next month without having to quarantine, with movement limited to Guangdong province initially, South China Morning Post reports, citing an unidentified Chinese health official.
A daily quota will be set and a visitors’ health code system will be in place, the report said. Shenzhen will be the only entry port and movement for such visitors would be contained in the province during the initial trial period, it added.
The first trial may begin in mid-December if the Hong Kong government “manages a smooth roll-out of the system,” the report cited the official as saying.
The city’s and Chinese experts have held talks as recently as Tuesday, and another online meeting is expected to be held next week to iron out the details of the traveler tracking mechanism and classification of their Covid-19 risk levels, the Post said.
Hong Kong has so far maintained a and one of the world’s strictest quarantine regimes as it prioritizes reopening its border with China over reopening to the rest of the world.
Hong Kong and mainland China are the last bastions of a “Covid-zero” strategy abandoned by most other places as they open up and allow freer travel.
The city’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam has said restarting two-way travel with China comes above everywhere else, frustrating the business community and many residents unable to leave without the burden of weeks in quarantine upon return. As long as China persists with Covid Zero, Hong Kong is likely to follow.
Additional reporting by David Flynn
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