The Hong Kong government reversed plans for a Covid-19 travel restriction on mainland China returnees after a former chief executive questioned the policy on social media.

Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the communicable disease breach of the Centre for Health Protection, announced on Saturday afternoon that the government would suspend the Return2hk Scheme on Sunday for Hong Kong residents returning from the Guangdong Province. It came after Liwan District in Guangzhou City recorded a locally transmitted Covid-19 case on Friday.

Covid-19 coronavirus virus mask MTR
Photo: GovHK.

The Department of Health also issued an official notice on Saturday at 7:15 p.m., confirming that travellers entering the city from Guangdong had to undergo a 14-day quarantine, as the province was listed as a medium risk area.

Under current travel arrangements, Hong Kong residents can return to the city from parts of mainland China without having to be quarantined if they can show a negative coronavirus test result upon entry.

However, following the department’s announcement, former chief executive Leung Chun-ying questioned the government’s decision in a post on his Facebook account.

“Guangzhou City has an area of 7,434 square kilometres, and the area of the rest of the Guangdong Province is 23 times larger than Guangzhou City,” wrote Leung. “Guangzhou has a case, and the whole province has to stop Return2hk – this is one thing that [I] don’t understand.”

After Leung’s post, the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau published a statement at 10:29 p.m. and said that only the building in which the Covid-19 case was found in Guangzhou would be listed as a medium risk place, rather than Guangdong province.

Secretary for the Civil Service Patrick Nip admitted on Sunday that the government had “caused some confusion,” and that officials would draw conclusions from the experience to avoid future misunderstandings or confusion.

“There are two principles when considering whether the Return2hk scheme needs some adjustments, which include public health risk, and whether the relevant arrangements are proportional,” said Nip.

Streak broken

Hong Kong reported two Covid-19 cases on Sunday, one of which was locally transmitted with an unknown origin, breaking the five-day streak where the city had not had any local cases.

Officials are also still investigating the case of a 4-year-old boy and looking into when he may have been infected. Excluding the case, Hong Kong would be on target for a 27-day streak without a locally-transmitted case.

Meanwhile, he government imposed a lockdown in Tower 6, Island Harbourview in Tai Kok Tsui after a 46-year-old woman tested preliminarily positive to the Covid-19 mutant strain N501Y on Sunday. Officials aimed to complete testing and confirm results by 7 a.m. on Monday.

The city has recorded a total of 11,833 cases and 210 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

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Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.