Campsites managed by the Hong Kong government will reopen next Thursday after they were closed for more than two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Members of the public will be allowed to camp at 41 country park sites managed by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department starting on November 17, the government announced on Thursday in its latest round of easing social distancing measures.
The department also launched a pilot booking system for the Twisk Campsite at Tai Lam Country Park, which would allow people to reserve spaces in advance.
The reopening of campsites came more than two years since they were first shut down between March 28 and May 20 in 2020. Access resumed briefly, but they were closed again on July 15, 2020 and remained so until now.
Thursday’s announcement came a day after lawmaker Ben Chan challenged the authorities’ decision to reopen barbecue sites earlier this month but to keep the campsites shut.
Enthusiasts had to set up camp in non-country park areas or even engage in illegal camping within the country parks due to the policy and the limited number of private campsites, the DAB legislator said.
The agriculture department issued 146 warnings against illegal camping in the first three quarters of this year, the highest number compared to annual totals recorded since 2017, according to figures submitted to the legislature on Wednesday.
Secretary for the Environment and Ecology Tse Chin-wan told lawmakers the government’s anti-epidemic measures were “science-based and targeted,” adding the authorities would closely monitor the latest developments in the pandemic and review social distancing measures, including the closure of campsites.
The government’s decision to reopen campsites came “too late,” said Shan, an administrator of social media page “Mountain Girl HK.” The hiking enthusiast filed a petition with close to 5,400 signatures to the government in October last year calling for the reopening of campsites as local infections ebbed at the time.
Shan also sent emails to the government monthly since August this year to inquire about plans of ending the closure of campsites in light of the gradual relaxation of other Covid-19 curbs. But she received “standard replies” only, with no mention of a timetable for the reopening, she told HKFP on Thursday.
“The demand for campsites to open did not just recently emerge. It felt like the government only responded to such demand when it was raised by a lawmaker,” she said, pointing to comments left on the AFCD’s Facebook page that urged the government to make designated campsites available again.
On Thursday, Hong Kong reported 5,697 new Covid-19 infections, among which 495 were imported cases. The city also added nine new deaths.