The introduction of the red and amber code arrangement and a new 3+4 quarantine model – comprising three days of hotel quarantine and four days of home medical surveillance – by the new Government in early August marked another step in the return to normal for Hong Kong.
After completing their hotel quarantine, arrivals will have an amber code on the LeaveHomeSafe app, and will be able to take public transport, go to work or school, as well as enter shopping malls and supermarkets.
While welcoming the latest arrangements, I have to stress that these are only the first steps for Hong Kong to get back to normal and reconnect with the world. To truly relaunch our economy and recover our global competitiveness, we must lift the quarantine restrictions as soon as possible, to enable business travellers, residents and tourists to return to Hong Kong.
Meanwhile, the new administration should continue to review the latest developments and actual situation in the city when adjusting the restrictions. For example, people with an amber code were initially not able to access exhibition venues. I reflected the difficulties facing the exhibition sector to Chief Executive John Lee, and I am pleased to note that this restriction was subsequently eased.
Starting from 25 August, arrivals with an amber code can attend business-to-business conferences and exhibitions. However, three days of hotel quarantine is still a major impediment to the return of businesspeople and exhibitors. As we enter the peak events season in September and October, it would benefit businesses if access was expanded to include all public exhibitions with proper risk control.
On a related topic, the 500,000 air tickets purchased by the Airport Authority two years ago could also be put to good use by offering free tickets to business travellers. This would send a message to the world that Hong Kong is a welcoming city, and help encourage business travellers and exhibitors to return.
With Omicron variants circulating, there is still a long road ahead in the fight against the pandemic. Targeted anti-epidemic measures can provide immediate relief, but the fundamental way to tackle the pandemic in the long run is to further boost the vaccination rate of all age groups, especially among the elderly and children.
Recently, a number of children infected with Covid-19 have been admitted to intensive care with croup. Besides, during the fifth wave at the beginning of the year, over 95% of deaths occurred in people aged 60 or above – the vast majority of whom were not fully vaccinated. The most effective way to minimize the risk of serious illness is to get the elderly and children vaccinated before winter arrives.
Many businesses have followed the Government’s lead in allowing parents flexible hours to get their children vaccinated. I hope the business community will continue to play its important role in encouraging vaccination among all members of society, and foster the social values of mutual care and inclusiveness together.