Hong Kong’s plan to form a travel bubble with Macao and neighbouring Guangdong province on mainland China has stalled over technical issues.
Under the plan, Hong Kong residents with a valid health certificate stating they are free of the coronavirus would be exempt from mandatory quarantine when travelling to the province and to Macao.
A month after the plan was announced, the Hong Kong government is under increasing pressure to speed up the process as the city gradually eases social-distancing measures to revive the economy.
Speaking before meeting her advisers in the Executive Council today, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said work had been done in an attempt to facilitate travel amid the quarantine requirements.
“Now the problem is not just on our side, because the mainland authorities have also imposed a 14-day mandatory quarantine requirement since the end of April,” Lam said. “So we have to find the way to overcome both sets of quarantine before people can readily travel again.
“There are certain technical issues to overcome and [considerations on] the number of people allowed to cross the border every day. A lot of work has been done on that front, including the health code.”
She said the Hong Kong side hoped to implement the travel bubble “as soon as possible” but challenges remained.
Hong Kong had 1,161 infections as of Tuesday, with six related deaths.
Macao has recorded 45 cases, while Guangdong has 1,634, of which 462 have been recorded in Shenzhen in Guangdong.
Officials revealed last month that they were working on the system that would allow a traveller to prove they were free of COVID-19. This would mean the mandatory quarantine imposed on arrivals in Hong Kong, Guangdong and Macao could be waived.
Similar arrangements already exist between Macao and the mainland province. People who test negative for the coronavirus within seven days of departure and are deemed to be at a low risk of contracting the virus are allowed to cross the border.
Lam also dismissed a media report that said Macao would be excluded from the scheme, adding she had recently spoken to Macao Chief Executive Ho Iat Seng about the matter.
She said both governments were working hard to facilitate travel for residents between the two places.
Hong Kong has imposed a 14-day mandatory quarantine for people arriving from the mainland since early February and extended that arrangement to those coming from Macao and Taiwan in late March.
But certain people are exempt, including those whose jobs are deemed important for the running of government, protecting the safety or health of Hongkongers, supplying goods and services required for the normal functioning of the city, as well as “exceptional circumstances” cases that serve Hong Kong’s public interest.
Overall, the exemptions involve 30 categories of people such as air travel workers and cross-border students.