Coronavirus: plan to exempt more HK cross-border workers from quarantine raises eyebrows with some among 650 applicants involved in non-essential trades

30-Mar-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

A new Hong Kong scheme to exempt cross-border suppliers of essentials from compulsory quarantine measures amid the coronavirus pandemic has drawn more than 650 applications in a week, including some unlikely businesses centred on jewellery traders and investors.

But concerns were raised over the risk of more imported infections and whether the policy was fair, after it emerged that two major business chambers in the city would review submissions before authorities made any approval.

Since February 8, all mainland arrivals are required to go on a 14-day quarantine, either at government facilities or in their own accommodation, as part of measures against the Covid-19 crisis.

On Friday the city recorded a new daily high of 65 cases, bringing the local tally to 518, with four fatalities.

Cross-border truck drivers and other transport workers had earlier been exempted from the regulation to keep the city running with a stable supply of essential goods.

It’s simply ludicrous that they are being considered as businesses that provide daily necessities to Hong Kong

Government source

Last Wednesday, officials widened the net and allowed local companies with factories on the mainland that “produce and supply goods required for the normal operation or the daily needs of the people of Hong Kong” to apply for a maximum of two cross-border workers to be exempted from the self-isolation rule.

Successful applicants will be allowed to cross the border for an unlimited amount of time, and are only required to observe medical surveillance, including wearing masks and undergoing daily temperature checks.

Some 650 applications have since flooded in, and two related to medical equipment have been approved while the rest are still being processed.

The Trade and Industry Department, responsible for the application process, said companies providing food, medical appliances and personal hygienic products would qualify for the exemption.

A government source said, however: “But quite a few have come from jewellery companies. It’s simply ludicrous that they are being considered as businesses that provide daily necessities to Hong Kong.”

In a letter seen by the Post, the Hong Kong Jewellery Manufacturers’ Association told its members it had written to Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po asking for a “more appropriate and flexible border arrangement”, adding that they could file for quarantine exemption.

The Post has reached out to the association for comment.

It added that in a break with convention, the exemption application form was not available on government websites, and could only be obtained from several business chambers.

A government document on vetting procedures seen by the Post also showed that the department would consult the Federation of Hong Kong Industries and the Chinese Manufacturers’ Association of Hong Kong for advice on whether to approve applications.

“This is certainly a departure from the government’s standard operating procedure, as sensitive commercial information of non-member companies such as factory addresses and product descriptions might be sent to those groups for background checks.”

Democratic Party chair and lawmaker Wu Chi-wai, who sits on the legislature’s panel on commerce and industry, said he feared the system might create a health loophole.

“It might add to the slew of imported infections in Hong Kong if non-essential workers were allowed to cross the border and skip quarantine.”

He also questioned the involvement of the two chambers in the vetting process, saying this was unfair to businesses which were not their members.

The department declined to comment on the concerns.

The Chinese Manufacturers’ Association said application forms were provided to members “upon request” and it would only conduct a reference check and “verify claims made by applicants” if asked by the department, while the Federation of Hong Kong Industries said the final decision rested with the department.

Meanwhile, Guangdong province ramped up its health measures and imposed a 14-day quarantine on all arrivals on Friday, including those from Hong Kong and Macau, with the exemption of personnel involved in maintaining daily life in the two cities and transport workers in the essentials supply trade.

The department has yet to comment on inquiries from the Post over the possible impact of Guangdong’s measures on the new scheme.


Category: Hong Kong

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