Macau asks Beijing for advice on HK-Macau border opening: Ao Ieong

2021-07-21 03:40     Comment:0

Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture Elsie Ao Ieong U said yesterday that the Macau government has invited experts from the National Health Commission (NHC) in Beijing to come to Macau to advise the local government on the possible implementation of quarantine-free travel arrangements for arrivals from Hong Kong, after obtaining a better understanding of Macau’s COVID-19 prevention work during their possible inspection visit to Macau.

However, the policy secretary said that the schedule for the experts’ visit to Macau has yet to be decided.

Ao Ieong made the remarks while speaking to reporters at Macau Tower after attending a ceremony that marked the swearing-in of the new-term board members of the Macau Returned Overseas Chinese Association, and its two affiliates representing young people and women respectively.

The Macau government first announced last month that “conditional” exemptions from the Macau government’s quarantine requirement for arrivals from Hong Kong were to be implemented in phases if the neighbouring city had zero new local COVID-19 cases for at least 28 consecutive days. However, the Macau government said early this month that its possible quarantine-free travel arrangements for arrivals from Hong Kong could only get off the ground after its discussions with the mainland’s health authorities on the matter have been completed, as Macau has always been carrying out its COVID-19 measures in conjunction with the mainland’s.

Currently, Macau has quarantine-free travel only with the mainland – for which those travelling between the two areas have to present a nucleic acid test (NAT) certificate confirming that they have tested negative for COVID-19 within the past seven days.

The Macau government has repeatedly underlined over the past few months that all over the world only the Chinese mainland has a COVID-19 situation that is similar to Macau’s

Currently, the Macau Health Bureau (SSM) only classifies Macau and the Chinese mainland as COVID-19 low-risk areas. Hong Kong is currently classified by the Macau government as an area with a low-to-medium COVID-19 risk, while Taiwan is classified as a COVID-19 medium-risk area. All foreign countries are classified as COVID-19 high-risk areas.

The Macau Health Bureau reaffirmed last week that quarantine-free travel arrangements for those arriving in Macau from Hong Kong could only get off the ground as long as it did not affect the current quarantine-free travel between Macau and the mainland.

Ao Ieong was asked by reporters yesterday about the issue. They mentioned that the Macau government appeared to have suspended its discussions with its Hong Kong counterpart about the possible quarantine exemption for arrivals from Hong Kong. The policy secretary reaffirmed that the mainland, Hong Kong and Macau authorities have been maintaining close communication about the possible relaxation of travel restrictions among the three regions.

“We [the Macau government] have invited an expert team from the National Health Commission to visit Macau to examine our COVID-19 prevention work, but the date for their visit is yet to be decided,” Ao Ieong said.

“After the expert team arrives in Macau, we will first ask them to assess Macau’s COVID-19 prevention work. Afterwards, we want them to give us their opinions and views about the [possible] border opening between Hong Kong and Macau, with the hope of enabling the Hong Kong-Macau border opening to get off the ground as soon as possible,” the policy secretary said.

According to Ao Ieong, the Macau government also aims for the NHC findings on Macau’s COVID-19 prevention work to enable the further relaxation of COVID-19 measures for the current quarantine-free travel between Macau and the mainland to be rolled out.

Fewer people get COVID-19 jabs

Meanwhile, Ao Ieong said that the number of people making an appointment per day to be inoculated against COVID-19 has decreased to only around 2,000 in recent days, as opposed to the peak around a few weeks ago when about 10,000 people on average made a COVID-19 vaccine appointment per day.

Despite the fact that COVID-19 vaccinations in Macau are voluntary, Ao Ieong urged residents to assume their “social responsibility” by getting inoculated against the novel coronavirus so as to help create herd immunity in Macau as soon as possible, with the aim of facilitating the gradual easing of COVID-19 measures in Macau and travel restrictions between Macau and regions other than the mainland.

The Novel Coronavirus Response and Coordination Centre announced in a statement yesterday that as of 4 p.m. yesterday, 461,931 doses of COVID-19 vaccine had been administered to 271,308 people in Macau, comprising 79,024 who had received their first jab and 192,284 who had received their second jab. Macau’s COVID-19 vaccination rate stood at 39.8 percent as of 4 p.m. yesterday – i.e. nearly 40 percent of the population has received at least one jab.

The Health Bureau said early this month that Macau would need to reach a vaccination rate of at least 80 percent in order to achieve COVID-19 herd immunity.

Ao Ieong noted yesterday that Macau’s COVID-19 vaccination has so far reached around 40 percent, which she admitted was still far lower than the 80-percent-plus vaccination rate required for Macau to achieve herd immunity.

Delivery of more Sinopharm jabs

Two types of COVID-19 vaccines are currently available in Macau, China’s Sinopharm inactivated vaccine and Germany’s BioNTech mRNA vaccine. Over 80 percent of vaccinees have chosen Sinopharm jabs in Macau since the launch of the vaccination programme in February. The Macau government has so far purchased a total of 700,000 doses of Sinopharm vaccine, 500,000 of which were delivered to Macau early this year.

The Health Bureau said last week that the remaining stock of Sinopharm jabs in Macau would only be sufficient for inoculations for two more weeks.

Ao Ieong said yesterday that the Macau government is asking the manufacturer in Beijing to deliver 200,000 Sinopharm doses to Macau, adding that she believed that they would arrive in Macau soon.

Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture Elsie Ao Ieong U speaks to reporters at Macau Tower yesterday. Photo: GCS

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