The Hong Kong government has been urged to reopen the Lo Wu Control Point with the mainland in order make life easier for students who will have to cross over from China every day to attend schools in the city. The crossing is not among the four border checkpoints that will resume service on Sunday following years of Covid-19 border closures.
The authorities were also asked to provide support for cross-border students’ academic and transport needs, as well as replace the pre-travel Covid-19 PCR test requirement with rapid tests.
The International Social Service’s Hong Kong Branch announced its survey findings and suggestions for the government at a press conference on Friday, after it interviewed 1,013 families with cross-boundary students between December 29 and January 3.
Whilst cross-border students will be allowed to come to Hong Kong for in-person classes after the Lunar New Year holidays, the NGO found that 73 per cent of respondents said they were worried about arrangements for their children’s return to campuses.
The NGO’s Service Coordinator Torres Lee said it has been uncertain as to when exactly different schools will resume face-to-face teaching for cross-border students.
Many parents were in the dark about transportation in Hong Kong after being unable to set foot in the city for three years, especially when their children have moved on to a secondary school that they have never visited in real life, Lee added.
The survey found that most families wanted the students to go to Hong Kong via the Lo Wu Control Point. Lee said 60 per cent of the respondents’ children were studying in the North District and Tai Po – therefore not being able to use the closest checkpoint would “cause inconvenience.”
In light of the survey results, Jolian Chui, an assistant director of programming at the NGO, urged authorities to reopen the Lo Wu checkpoint as soon as possible, adding that specific immigration channels and counters for cross-boundary pupils should be installed at the border too.
Chui said the government should also ensure there will be sufficient drivers and care givers to support the demand for cross-border school bus services after Lunar New Year.
“Over these three years under Covid-19… most cross–border school bus service providers have already been shuttered,” she added.
Scrap PCR tests
Quarantine-free travel between Hong Kong and the mainland will resume on Sunday, but all cross-border travellers are required obtain a negative PCR test result within 48 hours before travel. Beijing has protested such measures being imposed by other countries upon those leaving China.
Chu Xiuyun, a mother of a 13-year-old cross-border student, told reporters that it will not be viable for them to cross the border every day if the PCR test requirement remains in place.
Chu said the mainland has shut down a lot of PCR test stations lately, as Beijing rapidly scrapped Covid regulations. While some hospitals still offer the service, she said it might take up to two days before they can receive results.
Jolian Chui said the government should put cross-border pupils “on an equal ground” with their local counterparts and replace the PCR test requirement with rapid antigen tests.
Additionally, Chui said authorities should provide support for cross-boundary students to adapt to in-person classes as they had spent three years studying remotely. She said these students might need help with their language, studying and social skills.
She also urged the government to provide special arrangements for cross-border students to renew their expired HKID cards, so that their parents can be spared from fighting over quotas to complete such procedures in Hong Kong.
Director of Programme Iris Liu said that, while the government might have tried its best to collect different opinions before deciding on their border reopening measures, it did not contact NGOs for first-hand information on the situation of cross-border families: “We suggest [that] the government can have more contact with NGOs [with first-hand experience] and their service targets,” she added.