A London-based Hong Kong citizen has written an open letter the city’s leader to call for a review on the ban on UK flights amid fears over a mutant coronavirus strain in Britain.
According to the letter addressed to Chief Executive Carrie Lam circulated online, an individual who claimed to be a “concerned Hong Kong citizen, stranded in the UK” criticised the ban on UK arrivals as “abandoning” Hongkongers abroad.
“This has left many Hong Kong citizens, both in and out of the city, not only stranded but in the dark about how to plan their next steps,” the letter read.
The person who penned the letter urged the Hong Kong authorities to reconsider its policy: “Is it really considerable for Hong Kong to give up on its citizens and leave them to fend for themselves?”
On Monday, the Hong Kong government announced a halt on the entry of travellers from the UK – including Hong Kong residents – citing concerns over a new Covid-19 variant that has spread across Britain. Travellers who arrived from the UK before the ban are also required to stay at home for another seven days after their mandatory two-week quarantine.
During Hong Kong’s months-long battle against the coronavirus since late January, Lam has repeatedly rejected calls for imposing a full border closure with mainland China. She cited a “constitutional angle” – citizens’ freedom of movement enshrined in the Basic Law – on multiple occasions to back her decision.
“When we talk about who must be allowed entry, we are talking about Hong Kong residents… because according to the Basic Law, Hong Kong residents have the freedom of movement,” Lam said in a press conference on March 21. “Put simply, as long as they have a Hong Kong ID card, they are Hong Kong residents, we have to let them in.”
At another news conference on March 24, the city’s leader said Hong Kong residents could not be “shut out.” She asked: “What about the large group of Hong Kong residents and students overseas who want to return because the local pandemic situation is severe?”
In September, the chief executive said the Hong Kong government had strived to retain “personal freedom” in society as they implemented anti-epidemic measures over the past eight months: “Everyone can continue to go to work and go out; Hong Kong residents in the mainland and overseas can also come back to Hong Kong through the remaining border crossings,” she said.
Asked whether the ban on UK flights contravenes the guarantee of free movement in the city’s mini-constitution, Secretary Food and Health Sophia Chan told reporters on Monday that the government discussed the policy with the Department of Justice, which said it was a “sound measure.”
On Wednesday, local health authorities revealed the new Covid-19 strain was detected in two students who returned to Hong Kong from Britain earlier this month. The variant was found after the government’s laboratory conducted gene sequencing on 11 samples taken from UK returnees.
Centre for Health Protection Head of Communicable Diseases Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan said the two students were put in quarantine for an additional week as precaution.
“It’s just for precaution’s sake because these two are the first two cases we found in Hong Kong that have a new variant gene. According to the UK reports, they may be more infectious,” Chuang said.
As of Wednesday, Hong Kong has recorded 8,353 Covid-19 infections and 133 related deaths.