Hong Kong is “completely open” to any conditions set by mainland authorities to allow cross-border travel to resume, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Wednesday.
In response to multiple questions from Legislative Council members concerned about resuming travel between Hong Kong and the mainland amid the pandemic, Lam said she had many times raised the issue with top Chinese officials, including Vice-Premier Han Zheng during her trip to Hainan this month.
“Vice-Premier Han… knows that Hong Kong’s economic recovery requires easier border-crossing for people between the two territories. The hint is that we need to do better in terms of our anti-epidemic efforts,” Lam said, in response to a question from Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions lawmaker Michael Luk.
“I have not received any specific goals – for example what the vaccination rate or the infection figures must be,” Lam said. “We need to work harder together, which includes the vaccination rate.”
In response to a question from lawmakers Jeffrey Lam and Lo Wai-kwok about a possible “business bubble,” Lam said: “We will study any form [of travel bubble] that the mainland would accept. We have tackled the question for ‘one-way permit’ travellers with the Return2HK scheme and the Come2HK scheme, to begin next month.”
Hong Kong’s tourism and retail sectors have suffered severely in the past year as most international and mainland travellers were barred from entering the territory, under Covid-19 epidemic control measures.
The Return2HK scheme now allows Hong Kong residents to return to the city from mainland China and Macau without serving mandatory quarantine, provided they obtained negative Covid test results within 24 hours before their arrival and had not travelled to riskier regions in the past fortnight.
Meanwhile, through the Come2HK scheme, non-Hong Kong residents from Guangdong and Macau will be allowed to enter the city without compulsory quarantine, subject to conditions. The scheme will start in mid-May.
Lam said the remaining challenge will be allowing Hongkongers and two-way permit travellers – which include tourists – to cross the border.
Jeffrey Lam said a “business bubble” could allow 2,000 to 5,000 individuals to travel between the mainland and Hong Kong for business purposes per week, through a simple application process, subject to conditions.
“Owing to the start of the travel bubble between Singapore and Hong Kong, there are grounds to starting travel with the Greater Bay Area,” he said.
Hong Kong has recorded 11,749 coronavirus cases and 209 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic until Wednesday.