Hongkongers visiting Shenzhen will have to quarantine there for 21 days rather than 14 as previously imposed, after the emergence locally of mutated coronavirus strains, dashing hopes of the border with mainland China reopening soon.
The Health Commission of Guangdong Province ruled on Thursday with immediate effect that Hong Kong residents would be required on entry to quarantine in a hotel for two weeks, before spending a further seven days confined for observation in their homes or other accommodation.
During the observation period, arrivals must take a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test on the first and the last day of their confinement to ensure mutated strains of the coronavirus do not enter the mainland community from Hong Kong.
Do you have questions about the biggest topics and trends from around the world? Get the answers with SCMP Knowledge, our new platform of curated content with explainers, FAQs, analyses and infographics brought to you by our award-winning team.
Hong Kong businesses were disappointed at the tightening of the quarantine arrangements, saying they were resigned to further delays to the lifting of border restrictions.
“It is unimaginable when the border will be restored,” said Danny Lau Tat-pong, honorary chairman of the Hong Kong Small and Medium Enterprises, a 1,700-member chamber.
“Business owners and operators including myself have waited for more than a year and are still waiting.”
Hong Kong has closed all but three border checkpoints since February last year to contain the coronavirus.
The resulting toll on the economy has been heavy, with tourism wiped out and business travel minimal.
Lau said cross-border businesses had been significantly disrupted, forcing Hong Kong operators to manage their factories in Dongguan remotely and restricting meetings with clients over the border or overseas to online communication.
He has not been able to visit his own facility in Dalang, which produces aluminium curtain walls, since January last year.
Lau said he believed the recent discovery of more infectious variants of the coronavirus in the Hong Kong community was behind mainland authorities tightening infection controls.
Fears of variants from Brazil and South Africa – N501Y and E484K – spreading through the city have taken hold since the first two cases of such infections were discovered locally.
A 29-year-old engineer from Dubai and his 31-year-old female friend were confirmed as infected on April 17 and 18 respectively.
More than 1,000 people deemed as close contacts of those linked to the initial infections have been ordered to serve three weeks of quarantine.
But the government plans to shorten that mandatory period for close contacts who have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
On the same token, Chinese Manufacturers’ Association honorary president Dennis Ng Wang-pun urged mainland authorities to relax the 21-day quarantine requirement for Hongkongers who had been inoculated.
“Businesses cannot operate remotely forever, we still have to meet clients and visit factories in person,” he said.
“The border reopening will be crucial to Hong Kong’s economic recovery, and will directly throw a lifeline to tourism, retail and food and beverage sectors.”
As of Thursday, Hong Kong has confirmed 11,798 coronavirus infections, with 210 related deaths.
More from South China Morning Post:
- Coronavirus: dozens of Hongkongers fighting quarantine order allowed to stay in their flats overnight after 4,900 sign petitions for home isolation
- Why Singapore moved to 21-day hotel quarantine – and a look at the countries with the longest, shortest and ‘most relaxing’ self-isolation requirements