The mainland side of the border is tightening quarantine security as Hong Kong battles its “third wave”, banning Hong Kong drivers who live in buildings with confirmed cases or who work at companies with confirmed driver cases.
Those cross-border drivers must wait 14 days from an all-clear in their buildings or companies before they can take a mainland Covid-19 test – and only once that test shows a negative result can they enter Guangdong exempt from quarantine.
Hong Kong, on the other hand, has allowed some 10,000 truck drivers free access across the border since quarantine regulations began in February, citing “persons necessary for the supply of goods or services required for the normal operation of Hong Kong or the daily needs of the people of Hong Kong” as exempt.
“These exemptions are essential to ensure an uninterrupted supply of goods and daily necessities and maintain the economy,” a government spokesman says.
The government says around 290,000 “medical surveillance notices” have been issued to exempt travellers so far, but it stresses that this does not mean 290,000 people are exempt, “as a cross-boundary truck driver commuting daily would have been issued over 10 such notices since the commencement of the arrangement,” the government says.
Also exempt from quarantine have been cross-border coach crews, air and sea crews, government officials, doctors, lawyers, accountants, company directors and even mainland-domiciled staff who work at the Sheung Shui Slaughterhouse: this last exemption has proved controversial after the slaughterhouse revealed five confirmed cases amongst staff and abattoir buyers in the last few days.
At the weekend, the government announced it would tighten rules for sailors and air crews, after a sharp rise in the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases caused by asymptomatic crew carriers. Professor David Hui Shu-cheong, a government adviser, called for a suspension of unrestricted travel for the sector and said if quarantine was not imposed, it would “only lead to sustained entry of the virus to the community”.
The government acknowledged the recent increase in the number of confirmed cases of air and sea crews, but says a “wholesale cessation of the exemption arrangement will not be in the public interest” and instead will impose new rules from tomorrow (29 July): airlines and shipping firms will be required to prevent their crew members from mingling in the community and prohibit them from using public transport or face a ban on future exemption. Crews will also be required to obtain a negative test before boarding flights to Hong Kong, or face a test on arrival – with a wait in limbo for the results.
The new rules come as details emerge of a DHL crew member taking The Peak Tram over the weekend, despite the air transport industry pledging to keep exempted staff in self-quarantine.