Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor revealed on Tuesday morning that the third stage of relaxing social distancing measures in the city will begin at the end of June. At her weekly press briefing, Lam also said that the region needs clarity from the Mainland about the conditions to be fulfilled for quarantine-free cross-border travel to resume.
In the third stage, which was first announced in March to the relief of Hongkongers, all measures except mask-wearing and required use of the LeaveHomeSafe app and vaccine pass are expected to be dropped.
When asked whether any Stage 3 restrictions would be relaxed earlier than June, similar to how some Stage 2 measures were loosened two weeks ahead of schedule on May 5, the CE said that the government will adopt a “wait and see” approach. “If there is any room for easing, I am personally inclined to allow everyone to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the government [on July 1] in a more relaxed way. We will wait for second stage to be implemented first,” said Lam. Hong Kong’s newly elected leader, ex-Chief Secretary for Administration John Lee, will take office on the same day as the HKSAR Establishment Day holiday.
Before the outbreak of the fifth wave of Covid-19 infections in Hong Kong, there were reports that quarantine-free travel between the SAR and the Mainland would resume in December 2021. Since daily infections in the city have now abated, the CE was also asked about what the current requirements for reopening the border with the Mainland are.
Lam responded, “Hong Kong still has to strictly adhere to a strategy to try to reduce the importation of cases, enhance its hotel quarantine, and also the flight suspension mechanism, but at the same time, also need(s) to have some sort of social distancing measures to prevent a rebound. These measures exactly are to create the necessary preconditions for resuming quarantine-free travel into the Mainland.”
The CE added that authorities from both sides also had to discuss whether local infection numbers will still influence border-reopening plans: “One of the prerequisites [in September 2021] was that Hong Kong had to achieve no local infections for a while.”
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