Hong Kong recently reported two imported cases of the newly discovered Omicron variant of COVID-19. The news came just days after officials met to discuss opening the border between Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland to quarantine-free travel.
As a result of the new cases, those with 21-day travel history to South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe are banned from entering the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR), as reported by China Daily.
Omicron has been declared a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization. However, the variant’s transmissibility, severity of disease and resistance to vaccines remain unclear, as of press time.
No date has yet been set for quarantine-free travel between Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam previously said the border would not open before December 19, 2021, the date of the SAR’s Legislative Council Elections, as reported by Bloomberg.
The SAR’s public service broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) reported that Chief Secretary John Lee held talks with Chinese mainland officials on Thursday, November 25 regarding the border re-opening.
Lee said that the scanning of health QR codes, similar to those used in the Chinese mainland, would be a condition of quarantine-free travel. The code would be part of Hong Kong’s current track-and-trace scheme known as LeaveHomeSafe.
A number of governments around the world have imposed new border restrictions as a result of the Omicron variant. Global Times reported that “experts” believe the new variant may derail the planned Hong Kong-mainland border re-opening, but didn’t report any further details.
Hong Kong’s borders have remained largely closed to international travelers since the beginning of the pandemic. Travel between Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland has also been largely restricted, with most travelers required to undergo quarantine upon arrival on either side of the border.
One notable exception has been Hong Kong residents who live on the Chinese mainland and apply to be part of the daily quota prior to returning to the SAR.
Easing of border restrictions will be a long-awaited relief to many with work and family interests within the Greater Bay Area.
Ken, who requested we only use his English name, told That’s that he had not traveled to Hong Kong from his native Guangdong province since before the outbreak of COVID-19; a native of Zhaoqing city, he used to travel regularly to the SAR to run his business importing health and beauty products, amongst other items, from Europe.
He said that he will definitely travel to Hong Kong once border restrictions have been eased.
Whether or not Omicron will scupper plans to re-open the border remains to be seen. Expecting the unexpected seems to have become the norm with COVID-19.
[Cover image via Pixabay]