A mask-wearing French citizen in Paris. Photo: Facebook

The European Union is expected to put Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and six other countries on its travel “white list” soon in a bid to attract tourists from the Greater China region to spend their summer holidays in the 27-nation block.

Citing inside sources, media reports said EU officials would meet in Brussels on Wednesday to discuss if it would add nine places – the United States, Albania, Hong Kong, Lebanon, Macau, the Republic of Northern Macedonia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia and Taiwan – to its country list for non-essential travel.

Member countries in the EU are allowed to permit residents of nations on the white list to enter without having to follow previously strict quarantine mandates and to more freely move between EU member nations.

As of June 3, the white list has included Australia, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Rwanda, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and China, subject to confirmation of reciprocity.

Non-EU citizens from a country not on the white list should be deemed essential travel. These travelers include students, healthcare professionals, passengers in transit and passengers traveling for family reasons.

Early this month, the EU announced its Covid-19 vaccine passport scheme would start on July 1, restoring freedom of movement for people who have been inoculated with one of four vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency, those who had recently recovered from Covid-19 as well as those who tested negative for Covid-19.

Hong Kong people undecided

On Monday, the legislative process for the scheme was completed. The regulation will remain in effect until June 31, 2022.

In March, the EU said it had approved four vaccines – BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson – for its vaccine passport scheme.

However, many people in Hong Kong are not sure if they should visit Europe this summer as they would still have tough quarantine requirements when they returned to the territory.

According to the Hong Kong government’s website, fully-vaccinated people coming from European countries, which are categorized as “high-risk countries,” are required to undergo compulsory quarantine in a designated hotel for 14 days and have self-monitoring for seven days.

Non-fully-vaccinated travelers from the EU have to be isolated in a designated hotel for 21 days.

Representatives of Hong Kong’s tourism sector have called on the government to push forward the launch of “travel bubbles” with European countries.

The relaxation of the EU’s travel restrictions would be attractive to Hong Kong tourists and would help boost the businesses of airlines and travel agencies, said Yiu Si-wing, the tourism sector legislator.

Hong Kong should form “travel bubbles” with some EU nations that have relatively less infections than others as it would be problematic for Hong Kong tourists to be quarantined after their trips to Europe, Yiu said.

Danny Lau Tat-pong, the honorary chairman of the Hong Kong Small and Medium Enterprises Association, said Hong Kong businessmen would benefit from the easing of the EU’s travel rules, but might still be worried about the epidemic situation in Europe.

Lau said it remained too early to say when the Hong Kong government would allow people coming from EU nations to be free from quarantine.

Pro-Beijing lawmaker Junius Ho said the Hong Kong government should not put too much effort into forming “travel bubbles” with the EU as not many tourists from there would come to Hong Kong.

Mainland border focus

Ho said the special administrative region should focus on achieving zero local infections and boosting vaccination rates in order to reopen its border with the mainland as such a move would give a stronger boost to Hong Kong’s economy.

In early June, a cluster of three Covid cases broke a 42-day streak of zero new untraceable local infections in Hong Kong. Health officials have not yet found the origin of the virus transmission, although the coronavirus was identified on a pack of frozen food inside the refrigerator at the patients’ home.

David Hui Shu-cheong, chairman of the Department of Medicine and Therapeutics at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, said it was likely the food package was contaminated by the patients, rather than the virus being transmitted from an object to a human.

Meanwhile, progress with vaccinations in Hong Kong had significantly improved after the government started its “Early Vaccination for All” campaign, calling on the private sector to launch reward programs, on May 31.

Property developers and charity foundations offered prizes from a luxury apartment to shopping vouchers and gold. 

As of Tuesday, about 3 million doses of vaccines had been administered in Hong Kong. About 1.79 million people had received their first dose, while 1.22 million people had their second dose. On average, about 40,000 to 50,000 people were receiving the jabs per day.

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