An aerial view of the Hong Kong International Airport, colloquially known as Chek Lap Kok Airport. Photo: AFP

Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) is to resume its transfer/transit services for passengers from airports in mainland China from Saturday. Transfer/transit services to mainland China will remain unavailable.

The resumption will be reviewed in two months.

The new measure would help Chinese students leave for overseas study, said Frankie Yick Chi-ming, a pro-establishment LegCo member for the Transport functional constituency. It would also help the HKIA and airlines generate revenue.

Except for some cities, the epidemic in mainland China is under control and is better than in Hong Kong, Yick said.

According to China’s National Health Commission, the country recorded 11 imported cases in Shandong, Shanghai, Guangdong, Sichuan and Hebei and eight local infections in Xinjiang on Wednesday. A suspected case was reported in Shanghai.

Since last month, large-scale community outbreaks have been reported in Xinjiang with 505 people being infected and 13,548 people being put under medical observation.

Some places on the mainland such as Xinjiang and Liaoning had seen small clusters of infections, said Ho Pak-leung, the president of the University of Hong Kong’s Center for Infection. The Hong Kong government should have special arrangements for mainland travelers who had recently visited these areas, Ho said.

However, Leung Chi-chiu, chairman of the Medical Association’s advisory committee on communicable diseases, said the resumption of transit service at the HKIA for travelers from mainland cities would probably not pose a risk to Hong Kong because mainland China was considered low-risk. He pointed out that the airport had allowed travelers from some high-risk areas to transit in Hong Kong from June.

Since June 1, the HKIA had resumed the transfer/transit services from all origins to all destinations except mainland China. Transfer/transit flights operated by different airline groups must be booked under the same air ticket while passengers are checked through with both boarding passes printed and baggage tagged through to final destination.

The layover time of the transfer/transit passengers at HKIA must be less than 24 hours. Passengers should also confirm in advance that they are able to enter the final destination.

These passengers are given stickers at transfer points for identification and they are requested to go directly to boarding gates for connecting flights immediately. Designated seating areas at each boarding gate and designated dining areas are set up for them.

All these measures and requirements will remain effective and applicable, said the HKIA.

Separately, United States Health Secretary Alex Azar, who finished a four-day visit to Taiwan on Wednesday, criticized China for its lack of transparency and failure to contain the virus within its border.

However, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said Azar had lashed out because he wanted to make China a scapegoat for US officials’ incompetence in containing the virus.

On Wednesday, the Global Times, the Chinese Communist Party’s mouthpiece, was the first media to break the news about the resumption of transit services at the HKIA for mainland passengers. It said in a post on Twitter that the move would “attract a large number of travelers back from overseas.” Several hours later, the Global Times withdrew the post.

The latest HKIA statement did not state why passengers heading for the mainland would not be able to transit in Hong Kong. The mainland has imposed strict travel restrictions to control Covid-19.

Most foreign passport holders are barred from entering, apart from Korean and Singaporean nationals travelling on business to selected provinces.

Besides, the epidemic situation in Hong Kong has remained unstable. Local infections rebounded to 62 on Tuesday from 33 on Monday.

The Center for Health Protection said on Thursday that 69 new cases were added, with four of them being imported, within the 24 hours on Wednesday.

The center said 33 cases, including a police officer, two nurses at public hospitals and some housewives were without a known source of infection. Two people died on Thursday, bringing the number of deaths in the city to 65.

Meanwhile, Shenzhen Headquarters Office for Covid-19 Prevention and Control said on Thursday that a sample collected from the surface of a pack of frozen chicken wings imported from Brazil tested positive. Those who had contacted the products tested negative but were required to undergo medical observation.

The office had already checked all Brazilian frozen products in the city but had not found another contaminated sample. It urged the public to remain cautious when handling frozen meats and aquaculture products.

Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the communicable disease branch of the Center for Health Protection, said Thursday that the government was reviewing whether imported food had to be tested. She said the public should not rule out the possibility that some imported food was contaminated.

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