MTR passengers wait for boarding. Photo: Asia Times

The Hong Kong government is thinking of letting its residents who are now in Chinese provinces and cities other than Guangdong and Macau, as well as some mainlanders, enter the city without being quarantined.

Since November 23, 80,000 Hong Kong residents have been allowed to return from Guangdong and Macau without being quarantined under the Return2hk scheme.  A daily quota of 3,000 is set for the Shenzhen Bay Port, while that for the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge Hong Kong Port is 2,000.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam said in the Legislative Council on Thursday that the Return2hk scheme would be expanded to cover Hong Kong residents who came back from everywhere in China. Lam said the government was also planning to set up a quota for mainlanders to visit Hong Kong without being quarantined.

Pro-establishment politicians have been cheered by the potential expansion of the quarantine-free travel scheme, which will boost business activities and people flow between Hong Kong and the mainland. They hope such a move will help accelerate the complete border-reopening between the two places.

Michael Tien, convenor of Roundtable, a pro-business political party, said Friday that the Return2hk scheme should have covered all Chinese provinces and cities in the beginning as mainland China’s epidemic had been under control since mid-2020. Tien said all vaccinated mainlanders should be exempted from the 14-day quarantine when visiting Hong Kong.

Tsang Chi-man, vice chairman of The Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions, said many Hong Kong residents who were staying in provinces other than Guangdong hoped that they could be included in the Return2hk. Tsang said some people could not return to Hong Kong when they were allocated a public housing unit in the territory or their family members passed away.

However, health experts suggested that the Return2hk scheme be expanded step-by-step.

Leung Chi-chiu, chairman of the Medical Association’s advisory committee on communicable diseases, said there were sporadic local cases in some Chinese provinces, such as an outbreak in Yunnan last month. The Return2hk scheme should be extended to cover key Chinese cities initially so that it would not overload Hong Kong’s anti-epidemic capabilities.

Leung added that quarantine measures should only be skipped for those who came from low-risk places, instead of vaccinated people, as no vaccine was 100% effective. He also warned that some potential cross-infections could happen on flights among mainland and transit travelers.

A property agent in Kowloon Photo: Asia Times

While Hong Kong still records a few local cases per day, the city’s property markets have recently been stimulated by the border-reopening hope.

During the Easter holidays between April 2 and 6, the number of property transactions in Hong Kong’s 10 largest real estates reached 61, the highest in nine years, according to the Centaline Property Agency. Over the past week, the number of potential buyers who were looking at properties rose 3% from the previous week, surging for a seventh consecutive week.

According to the Rating and Valuation Department, a Hong Kong property prices index increased 0.9% from 381 in January to 384.5 in February, the highest in nine months.

Louis Chan, vice chairman and chief executive (residential) Asia Pacific at the Centaline Property Agency, said many buyers were willing to raise their offers as they believed that the fourth-wave epidemic in Hong Kong was going to end soon. Chan said property markets were also supported by the smooth vaccination progress in the territory.

AstraZeneca vaccine

On Friday, Health Secretary Sophia Chan said the government had decided to delay shipments of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine this year amid rising concerns over possible links between the shot and rare blood clots.

“Even if we have signed a pre-purchase agreement with AstraZeneca, we believe that AstraZeneca vaccines will not need to be supplied to Hong Kong this year, so as not to cause a waste when the vaccine is still in short supply globally,” Chan said.

Chan said the government was considering buying a new type of vaccine that may offer better protection.

The government has previously ordered 7.5 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine, which were originally due to arrive in July.

As of Thursday, Hong Kong has administered more than 700,100 vaccine doses. About 529,400 people have received their first dose, with 339,400 people receiving the Sinovac vaccine and 190,000 getting the BioNTech one. About 170,700 people have had their second dose.

Chan said Tuesday that the government would consider easing most of the social distancing rules after more than half of Hong Kong’s 7-million population were vaccinated.

In Hong Kong, people can book for inoculations on the Internet with most time slots in mid-April being available.

Read: Experts say HK should cancel AstraZeneca order