The Hong Kong government has issued a red travel alert for all countries in the world. Starting from midnight on Thursday (March 19), all people arriving in Hong Kong have to put themselves in compulsory home quarantine for 14 days except for those coming from Macao and Taiwan. As the COVID-19 virus is spreading across the world and the second wave of coronavirus cases is happening, the risk of cases imported from abroad is heightening significantly. It is necessary for the Hong Kong government to step up quarantine and disease-control measures at arrival gates. Hong Kong students studying abroad are in their tens of thousands. As these students, who are descendants of Hong Kong people, are set to return to Hong Kong in the short term from Europe and the US to flee the pandemic, it is necessary for the government to plan a response as soon as possible and mobilise more isolation equipment and facilities.
The pandemic poses an enormous challenge to the whole world, and governments around the globe have all tightened entry restrictions. Countries like the US and Singapore prefer travel bans, barring people from countries where there is an outbreak of the virus from entering. There are also regions that have chosen to step up quarantine measures after arrival, one example being Hong Kong. Early last month, the Hong Kong government, in response to the outbreak on the mainland, required people who had been to mainland China within 14 days of their arrival in Hong Kong to undergo compulsory quarantine. Recently, the majority of confirmed cases have been imported from abroad. With the second wave of coronavirus cases looming, the regions covered by the Hong Kong government's quarantine and isolation measures were expanding. Yesterday (March 17) the government even announced that all people arriving in Hong Kong have to be in compulsory quarantine for 14 days.
This week the Australian and New Zealand governments have announced that all entrants have to be kept in home quarantine for 14 days. The latest compulsory quarantine measures adopted by the Hong Kong government are largely the same. Due to serious outbreaks in the UK and US, thousands of Hong Kong students are expected to return to Hong Kong to "flee the pandemic". Experts believe that it is inevitable that some of them are infected. Even if they account for only 1% of those returning to Hong Kong, that could translate into over a hundred people carrying the virus. The Hong Kong government has to find ways to ensure that its health declaration and quarantine measures are properly in place to strictly prevent an outbreak at community level from bringing down the healthcare system.
The Hong Kong government orders all people entering the city — including Hong Kong people — to make health declarations and answer whether they have symptoms. But there are returning Hong Kong residents who say that after they reported on their health conditions as they were, they had to wait at the airport for six hours before they were sent to hospital. Some were even worried about being in the same room with 20-odd people when they were waiting, as they could be infected if any of them carried the virus. The government must prevent such a situation from happening. Otherwise, it might discourage other people from making the declaration factually. At the same time, with such a large number of people rushing into Hong Kong within such a short period of time, the government also has to make sure that there are enough ancillary equipment and facilities for conducting quarantine, including virus test kits and beds for quarantine. Though equipped with the experience of handling a large number of Hong Kong people returning from the mainland to Hong Kong early last month, it must not lower its guard or things could go pear-shaped.
The Singaporean government has recently closed its borders to travellers from Germany, France, Italy and Spain as well. But the authorities admit at the same time that Singapore cannot stand in isolation from other parts of the world. As the virus spreads across the world, that gradually reduces the effectiveness of immigration controls, and the government has to increasingly rely on measures at community level. Hong Kong has to consider this matter as well when it contemplates its strategy against the virus.