Exclusive | EU official welcomes HK interest in Covid-19 travel app, urges city to speed up reopening borders to the world

25-Oct-2021 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:43 AM Print This Post

Hong Kong is interested in adopting a European Union digital application that shows users’ Covid-19 records, a move that will make travel more convenient when its borders reopen, according to a top EU official in the city.

The Digital Covid Certificate, already issued to 591 million people and recognised by 43 countries including the 27 EU member states, shows if a person has been vaccinated, received a negative test result and recovered from Covid-19.

It allows people to travel safely and freely between destinations that recognise the app, and some EU countries also use it as a check for entry to events or venues.

Walter van Hattum, head of the trade section of the EU office to Hong Kong and Macau, told the Post that Hong Kong was among 60 non-EU jurisdictions that have approached the European Commission about joining the system.

He welcomed Hong Kong’s interest, but said he hoped the city would give reopening to the rest of the world the same priority as reopening to mainland China.

Noting the city’s focus on restoring travel with the mainland, he questioned if this had to be at the expense of reopening to other countries, asking: “Can you work on both priorities at the same time?”

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has repeatedly made it clear that the city’s priority was to restore travel with the mainland, its biggest market for business and tourism.

The Food and Health Bureau told the Post that city officials have been in discussions with EU authorities to recognise Hong Kong travellers’ vaccination records under the digital certificate framework.

Travellers arriving in Hong Kong with the EU digital certificate are currently subject to compulsory quarantine.

The EU allows vaccinated travellers from Hong Kong to enter for non-essential purposes, but whether they are subject to quarantine depends on the policies of individual member states.

Giving an example of how the EU’s Covid-19 app could make a difference, van Hattum said: “When Hong Kong people visit Europe, you show your vaccination record in the app and you can enter any restaurant.”

So far, no Asian country or territory is among the 43 countries already connected to the EU system.

One stumbling block is Hong Kong’s “zero-infection” policy, which contrasts with the approach of countries such as those in the EU, Britain, Australia and Singapore, which have chosen to “live with the virus” while reopening gradually.

Hong Kong’s strict measures resulted in a streak of 51 consecutive days with no local infections until early this month, and imported cases have remained mostly in single digits.

Travellers arriving in the city face mandatory quarantine of up to 21 days at government-approved hotels, with the length of confinement dependent on their vaccination status and place of departure.

Van Hattum said that after 20 months of strict controls, European businesses in Hong Kong want some level of predictability over when borders might reopen.

The European Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong has repeatedly warned that the city’s zero-Covid strategy threatened its position as a global finance hub.

Van Hattum pointed out that the EU recorded unprecedented gross domestic product growth of 14 per cent year-on-year in the second quarter of this year after choosing to open its doors to the world despite the pandemic.

While he did not see the situation in Hong Kong resulting in any major outflow of European business, he said staff at some bigger companies, such as those with operations in China, were “utterly frustrated” by the continuing restrictions.

“They are caught between a rock and a hard place,” he said.

Urging the city’s authorities to rethink their position, he described his own experience travelling from Hong Kong to Brussels in July.

“I left a deserted airport and landed in an airport which was busier than ever,” he said. “I was like, oh my God, what’s happening here? I am sure if Hong Kong government officials could see that, they will realise, hey, something is happening here.”

EU companies eye slice of the green pie

During the interview, van Hattum also touched on Hong Kong’s environmental target of being carbon neutral by 2050, saying European companies were keen for a slice of the green business pie.

He said Hong Kong had the conditions to accomplish its green agenda based on its international financial market, sophisticated infrastructure, talent, professional services and the huge mainland market across the border.

Lam revealed in her policy address earlier this month that the government would earmark HK$240 billion (US$30 billion) in the next 15 to 20 years for climate change mitigation and adaptation through transport, energy consumption and generation.

Van Hattum urged city authorities to hold regular dialogue with EU stakeholders and the private sector over possible coordinated efforts on green initiatives and the promotion of carbon neutralisation.

He cited the example of eco-friendly Spanish textile firm Jeanologia, which set up an office in Hong Kong and brought in technology to produce sustainable jeans.

“One should not wait for the other when it comes to leading the change,” he said, referring to the private sector and the Hong Kong government.



Category: Hong Kong

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