Many shops were closed down in Tsim Sha Tsui in 2020 due to the pandemic. Photo: Asia Times

Hong Kong is reportedly thinking of letting people in Guangdong province and Macau enter the city without being quarantined for 14 days, hoping such a move can boost the retail sector.

From Wednesday, Hong Kong people staying in the mainland and Macau can apply on the Internet to return without being quarantined if they have negative test certificates. They can leave for Hong Kong from November 23 under a daily quota of 5,000 people, including 3,000 people through the Shenzhen Bay Port and 2,000 others through the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge.

According to a report published by Sing Tao Daily, the government expected that tens of thousands of Hong Kong people would come back from the mainland and Macau in the two weeks beginning from next Monday. Citing a person familiar with the situation, the report said the government was thinking of exempting Guangdong and Macau visitors from quarantine requirements from December.

The source said in the report that initially not many mainland people would come to Hong Kong because the Chinese government would not allow a lot of people to travel overseas. The source said it was unlikely that people from Hong Kong would be allowed to enter the mainland without being isolated for two weeks because the territory would still report some local cases in the short term.

The Center for Health Protection said Wednesday that nine Covid-19 cases were identified, including six imported cases and three local infections, within the 24 hours on Tuesday. A 76-year-old taxi driver who lived in Yue Tin Court in Shatin developed symptoms on November 10 but kept working until Monday.

On Tuesday, three imported cases and one local infection were reported in Hong Kong. A 29-year-old construction site supervisor who lived in The Parcville in Yuen Long and worked in Lai Chi Kok and Sai Wan tested positive on Monday. A dozen of his colleagues were sent to quarantine centers.

Yiu Si-wing, a lawmaker representing the Functional Constituency – Tourism, said if Guangdong and Macau people were exempted from being quarantine from December, travelers doing businesses or visiting friends and relatives would benefit. However, Yiu said such a move would not help the tourism sector as mainland visitors would still have to be quarantined for 14 days after they returned to the mainland.

Yiu urged the Hong Kong government to discuss with its mainland counterparts whether mainlanders could be isolated for only a week when going home. He also suggested Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Guangzhou form travel bubbles.

Peter Shiu Ka-fai, vice-chairman of the Liberal Party and a lawmaker representing the Functional Constituency – Wholesale & Retail, said the retail sector had been seriously hit by the epidemic and would rebound only if China reopened its border with Hong Kong.

He said retail sales had been declining for 20 months, partly due to the social unrest last year, but had slightly improved after some anti-epidemic rules were relaxed in late October. He said it was unlikely that sales of luxury goods such as watches and jewelry would rebound significantly in the coming Christmas.

The Hong Kong Tourism Board said Monday that the number of visitors to Hong Kong amounted to 7,817 in October, down 99.8% from the same period last year or down 14.4% from 9,132 in September. In the first ten months, the number of visitors from the mainland fell 93.2% year-on-year to 2.7 million from 39.4 million.

The value of total retail sales in Hong Kong fell 12.9% to HK$26.1 billion (US$3.37 billion) in September from a year ago, the Census and Statistics Department said on November 2. For the first nine months of this year, the value of total retail sales decreased by 28.7% from the same period of last year.

In September, sales of jewellery, watches and clocks, and valuable gifts dropped 25.7% year-on-year while sales of electrical goods and other consumer durable goods slumped 38.7%. Sales of wearing apparel decreased 20.6% while sales of medicines and cosmetics were down 45.5%.

Meanwhile, sales of commodities in supermarkets increased 3.8% for the same period. Sales of motor vehicles and parts grew 17.1% while sales of furniture and fixtures were up 8.4%.

“The business environment of the retail trade will remain challenging in the near term, as inbound tourism is unlikely to see a swift rebound and the labour market is still under pressure,” government spokesperson said.

“However, with the stabilization of the local epidemic and the recent relaxation of social distancing measures, local consumption sentiment is likely to revive further.”

Tse Sui Luan Jewellery (International), a Hong Kong-listed jewellery retailer, said Wednesday that its same store sales in Hong Kong and Macau plummeted 59.3% in the six months ended September 30 from the same period last year. Same store sales in the mainland decreased 5.2%. For the same period, it recorded a net loss of HK$41.58 million, compared with a net profit of HK$1.57 million a year ago. The company said it would focus more on its mainland businesses.

Chow Tai Fook Jewellery Group Ltd, another Hong Kong-listed jewellery retailer, said last month that its same store sales fell 52.5% in Hong Kong and Macau but increased 11% in the mainland between April and June. The company said it would close some shops in Hong Kong and Macau and move online.

Meanwhile, Don Don Donki, a Japanese discount chain store, and Decathlon, a French sporting goods retailer, were reportedly expanding their businesses in Hong Kong, benefitting from a sharp decline in shop rentals in the city.

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