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Travel curb set to foreign countries

By Gu Mengyan in Hong Kong | | Updated: 2020-03-18 11:23
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Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, left, holds a note explaining home quarantine rules for household members of inbound travelers from overseas, ahead of the Executive Council meeting on Tuesday at the Central Governmen Complex. [Photo by Parker Zheng/China Daily]

The government on Tuesday issued a red travel alert - the second level of a three-tier system that rates travel safety - for the entire world except for the Chinese mainland, Macao and Taiwan.

In addition, beginning on Thursday, travelers arriving in Hong Kong from any foreign country will have to undergo a mandatory two-week home quarantine or medical surveillance, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor announced on Tuesday. About 90 percent of the city's new coronavirus cases in the past two weeks have been either imported or related to close contacts.

The new quarantine rules will not apply to arrivals from Macao and Taiwan, while the same requirements have been in place for travelers from the mainland since Feb 8.

Lam urged all Hong Kong residents to shun nonessential outbound travel.

More than 4,400 tour groups, comprising nearly 140,000 travelers, have been canceled as of Monday noon because of the pandemic, according to Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong. The council said it is working with the government to help tourists return to the city as soon as possible.

Lam said these decisions were made after a meeting with expert advisers, who agreed that border controls should be tightened to protect against a second wave of imported infections.

David Hui Shu-cheong, an infectious disease expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said these measures will be effective by discouraging travelers from entering Hong Kong, while, at the same time, allowing the entry of students studying overseas.

"I don't think any traveler would like to enter the city knowing they have to experience 14 days of quarantined life," said Hui, who is a member of the government's advisory panel. He believes home quarantine is an administrative measure that equals a border shutdown.

Ho Pak-leung, a top microbiologist at the University of Hong Kong, said the government should further ban non-Hong Kong residents from entering the city for the next month.

Ho said this would free up space in quarantine facilities so returning residents who are likely to have caught the disease can be treated better. He suggested returning students stay at designated facilities to protect family members from infection.

Also on Tuesday, the Macao government introduced a blanket entry ban on all nonlocal visitors effective today. Chinese nationals from the mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan, as well as nonresident workers employed in Macao, are exempted from this order.

Macao has recorded three imported cases since Sunday, ending a 40-day streak of no new infections reported. The latest infection, the 13th, involved a 20-year-old student, also a Macao resident, who returned through the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge after taking a flight from London to Hong Kong. Her infection was confirmed on Tuesday.

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