Governments across mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan have slapped entry restrictions and health screenings on anyone crossing their borders, with compulsory quarantine either at home or in a centralized facility for a fortnight for those not turned away on arrival.
For the numerous people who have residency in more than one jurisdiction in the Greater China Region, the additional red tape and checks and the prospect of being “locked up” for two weeks for medical observation all mean it is impossible to cross borders without some hassle.
Those Hongkongers, Macanese and Taiwanese who have to visit the mainland regularly or who have taken up residence in China find themselves in limbo as Chinese authorities moved to seal off borders and redirect flights to stop Covid-19 being imported, given the recent spikes in infections in Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Hong Kong has seen its confirmed cases almost triple to 682 within two weeks, while Taiwan’s tally has also risen to 322 as of Tuesday.
A Hongkonger who owns a flat in Shenzhen told Asia Times that she was lured by the lower home prices in the neighboring mainland city and used to cross the border daily to her office in Central. However, now she rents a subdivided flat in Hong Kong for about HK$10,000 (US$1,290) per month after Hong Kong’s government in early February gazetted a home quarantine order targeting anyone entering from the mainland.
Now that China has effectively reversed the tide of infections since February, with Europe and North America becoming the new epicenter of the virus, the nation is swiftly putting in place “reciprocal” entry restrictions targeting non-locals from Hong Kong and elsewhere.
The southern province of Guangdong’s 11th-hour announcement last week to expand its 14-day quarantine order to cover residents of Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan caught hundreds of thousands off guard and led to throngs of passengers at border checkpoints dashing to the mainland side to beat the isolation order before it came into place.
The Hongkonger said she could end up being quarantined twice for a total of 28 days if she crossed the border to return to her Shenzhen home and then went back to work in Hong Kong.
Government figures say there are about 150,000 Hongkongers and Macanese who live on the mainland but need to cross borders to work and who will be unable to continue their daily commute and routine.
Meanwhile, the Hong Kong government, already grappling with an influx of cases bought in by its citizens rushing home from overseas in the past few weeks, has vowed to get its act together for more stringent enforcement of the city’s quarantine order. It has prosecuted more than 70 who flouted the isolation rule and who went out on the streets, and one has been jailed for three months.
The city could be teetering on the edge of a big community outbreak as the government’s flexible measures aimed at staving off the viral spread while ensuring the continuity of business and social activities do not have the teeth to discipline people.
The city’s leader Carrie Lam has become tougher with enforcement and prosecution this week, banning gatherings of more than four people and dispatching officers to swoop on eateries, bars and karaoke and mahjong parlors to arrest offenders and to make sure tables are placed at least 1.5 meters apart.
Yet caterers have adapted to the changing environment with takeaway orders surging as many choose to eat at home, but Hong Kong’s retail sector is struggling, with business drying up. The sector has prodded the government to scrap the quarantine order on those arriving from the mainland, now that the pandemic there has waned since the start of March and the lockdown in Wuhan will soon be lifted.
Local papers reported that some luxury boutique stores in the city had virtually no takings this month after locals avoided going out and big-spenders from the mainland were deterred from visiting, mostly by the city’s quarantine order.
Hong Kong’s retail sales booked its largest single-month drop of 44% to a mere HK$22.7 billion in February, sustaining a 13-month losing streak that started in January 2019. Sales of luxury goods more than halved during the period, according to the latest official statistics.
Louis Vuitton has already decided to shut its flagship store at the Times Square mall in Causeway Bay after it failed to reach a consensus over rent concessions with landlord The Wharf Holdings. Tiffany will also close at least one store in the city.
For those clinging on, some have also been hit by a string of infections in recent months. Italian leather luxury goods brand Fendi reportedly had to dump dozens of its expensive handbags during deep cleaning of a store in the Times Square after a shop assistant there came down with Covid-19 last month. Yves Saint Laurent was also forced to shut one of its stores in the city following a cluster of cases that erupted at the K11 Musea, an upscale shopping arcade in Kowloon.