Hong Kong will be relaxing its border curbs for some mainlanders and its work-from-home rule for civil servants, as the coronavirus outbreak looks to be under control.
From today, mainlanders who are cross-border teachers and students, as well as individuals whose business activities are “beneficial to Hong Kong”, such as those in production or economic activities, will be allowed to enter the territory without having to undergo the mandatory 14-day quarantine.
Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan yesterday said the easing of restrictions will be gazetted within hours so that they can kick in by midnight, although details are still being ironed out
“The relevant policy bureaus will have to continue discussions with the relevant sectors and they will have to decide which types of personnel would fit the description, what would be the duration of stay, whether they have to practise personal hygiene and so on,” she said.
Other travellers from the mainland will still be required to undergo the compulsory two-week quarantine, which has been extended until June 7.
Earlier in the day, Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced that civil servants will return to their offices to work from next week, and government services are to resume normal operating hours.
There will be exceptions though, as some places such as schools remain closed.
Speaking ahead of her weekly executive council meeting, Mrs Lam said this would be done in two phases.
Bearing in mind existing social distancing rules, public facilities including outdoor sports venues, libraries and museums will start to open again.
She said the government is reviewing the situation and will decide if the current measures should be eased.
She added: “The situation fluctuates and recently, the World Health Organisation said the same.
“We need to be prepared and not ease the rules all at once but only gradually.
“But once we relax the rules, if there’s a need, we have to tighten them again and we can only relax when there is a vaccine and the majority of the population has immunity.”
Yesterday, the city’s confirmed cases remained at 1,037 and four deaths since the outbreak began in January.
The moves come as Hong Kong recorded no new case for a third consecutive day, with rises in infections on other days hovering around the single digits.
Pressure has been mounting for the government to relax social distancing measures in the light of the low number of new Covid-19 cases.
On Monday, the chairman of the Medical Association’s advisory committee on communicable diseases, Dr Leung Chi Chiu, suggested that Hong Kong can start to slowly ease social distancing rules. Last Saturday, respiratory disease expert Professor David Hui of the Chinese University of Hong Kong said that the measures can be relaxed if there are no unusual community outbreaks before May 7.
Executive councillor and Business and Professionals Alliance lawmaker Jeffrey Lam on Monday also chimed in, saying he would push for more exemptions if the government decides to extend quarantine rules for people arriving from the mainland.
People who are entering Hong Kong from the mainland have to undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine.
Last week, the government said the slew of social distancing measures now in place, including a ban on most gatherings of more than four people and the closing of gyms and cinemas, would be extended until May 7.