Govt mulls easing of foreigners’ entry ban: health chief

2020-11-04 03:04     Comment:0

Health Bureau (SSM) Director Lei Chin Ion said yesterday that the Macau government is considering the possible easing of its months-long ban on foreigners entering Macau, provided that they enter Macau from COVID-19 low-risk areas, such as the Chinese mainland.

Only those in special circumstances, such as those visiting family members who are Macau residents or those with “important” links to Macau, would be covered by the possible easing, according to Lei.

According to Lei, foreigner allowed to enter Macau would be subject to the government’s 14-day quarantine requirement – even if they enter Macau from the mainland.

Lei made the remarks while speaking to reporters after attending yesterday’s inauguration ceremony of the new Praia do Manduco Health Centre, known as Ha Van Health Centre in Cantonese.

Foreign visitors have been barred from entering Macau since March 18, and the entry ban was extended to foreign non-resident workers the next day. However, foreign nationals holding a Macau ID card are allowed to enter Macau. This means that all foreign nationals without a Macau ID card are currently barred from entering the city, regardless of where they have been before their intended entry into Macau.

Based on the “One China” policy, which is strictly adhered to by the Macau government, visitors from mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan are considered compatriots by the local authorities so that they are not covered by the entry ban on foreign nationals.

The two executive orders signed by Chief Executive Ho Iat Seng about the entry ban on foreign visitors and foreign non-resident workers state that in the public interest, particularly for the prevention, control and treatment of diseases, aid and emergency measures, and with the aim of ensuring Macau’s normal operation and the provision of daily necessities for residents, Macau’s health authorities can in exceptional cases exempt foreign nationals from the entry ban.

The Health Bureau has said that since March it has exempted certain groups of foreigners from the entry ban in the public interest in line with the two chief executive orders, such as crew members of airlines, diplomats and their family members, senior management staff members of local higher education institutions, those living in the mainland but having to come to Macau for important meetings, and persons who are “very important” to Macau’s economic recovery such as those involved in the upcoming Macau Grand Prix (MGP). All those foreigners who have been exempted from the entry ban have been subject to Macau’s 14-day quarantine requirement, the Health Bureau has said.

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Lei said that for the time being it is unsuitable for Macau to ease its COVID-19 prevention and control measures, considering the worsening COVID-19 pandemic, such as the deteriorating COVID-19 situation in Europe. “For example, around 20,000 new cases have recently been confirmed per day in the United Kingdom, whereas the mainland has reported only around 85,000 cases cumulatively [since the beginning of this year],” Lei said.

The Health Bureau had previously said that it would possibly review Macau’s current COVID-19 prevention and control measures after the mainland’s eight-day National Day Golden Week holiday period early last month, for easing the COVID-19 prevention and control measures.

Lei said yesterday that due to the globally serious COVID-19 pandemic, for the time being the Macau government will not consider relaxing its existing border entry curbs, adding that Macau would in the foreseeable future keep quarantine-free travel with the mainland only, considering that the latter is the only COVID-19 low-risk area for Macau

“The resumption of [quarantine-free] travel with the mainland is much more important than with anywhere else, as this is much more beneficial for Macau’s economic recovery,” Lei said.

No relaxation vis-à-vis HK

Lei also said that Macau will not ease its entry curbs and quarantine measures vis-à-vis Hong Kong as the COVID-19 epidemic situation there has still not stabilised. Hong Kong is still confirming new local COVID-19 cases from unknown sources almost every day, Lei pointed out.

Lei also underlined that if quarantine-free travel between Macau and Hong Kong resume right now, the mainland authorities could no longer regard Macau as a COVID-19 low-risk area, which would then adversely affect travel between Macau and the mainland.

The mainland is Macau’s number-one source of visitor arrivals. Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, mainlanders accounted for about two-thirds of Macau’s total number of visitor arrivals. About one-fifth came from Hong Kong.

Lei also said that the Macau government is considering further exemptions from the current entry ban for more foreigners in special circumstances, such as those visiting family members who are Macau residents or are working in Macau, academics in local higher education institutions, or other professionals.

Each dose of COVID-19 vaccine to cost govt 300 patacas

Meanwhile, Lei also said that the Macau government aimed to purchase 1.4 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines covering the city’s whole population – two shots for each person. Lei said that each dose would cost the government around 300 patacas, but the price would differ among different vaccine suppliers and be subject to fluctuation.

Lei also pointed out that the COVAX Facility – the global vaccine allocation plan jointly run by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Gavi vaccine alliance – will give priority to COVID-19 high-risk countries and regions and poor countries in vaccine procurement, adding that therefore COVID-19 vaccines are expected to be supplied to Macau at a later time under the initiative.

Lei also said that the government expected to spend 420 million patacas on purchasing COVID-19 vaccines for all Macau residents. He said that the local government had contacted six vaccine producers from the mainland and abroad for the purchase of the 1.4 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines.

There has been no COVID-19 community outbreak in Macau, with no confirmed local cases for 219 consecutive days and no imported cases for 130 consecutive days, according to the Health Bureau. Macau’s 46 COVID-19 patients have all been cured and discharged from hospital.

Meanwhile, Lei also said that his bureau expected the long-delayed Cotai hospital project– officially known as Islands Healthcare Complex – to finally come into service in 2023.

399 million patacas for Ha Van Health Centre

Lei also said that the government has spent 399 million patacas on the new Praia do Manduco Health Centre, which was inaugurated by Chief Executive Ho Iat Seng yesterday.

The Praia do Manduco Health Centre is situated in the newly-completed Praia do Manduco Community Services Municipal Complex, a four-storey building located opposite São Lourenço Market.

The Praia do Manduco Health Centre, which came into service yesterday, replaces the São Lourenço Health Centre, which stopped operating on Saturday.

The now-defunct São Lourenço Health Centre is located near São Lourenço Church.

Addressing yesterday’s inauguration ceremony, Lei said that the Praia do Manduco Health Centre will serve a population of 50,000 to 60,000. It has a gross area of 6,689 square metres, the fourth biggest of Macau’s eight public health centres, eight times the size of the now-defunct São Lourenço Health Centre.

Lei said that the Praia do Manduco Health Centre could provide better services for residents than the São Lourenço Health Centre.

Chief Executive Ho Iat Seng (second from right) unveils the inaugural plaque of the new Praia do Manduco Health Centre yesterday, as Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture Elsie Ao Ieong U (second from left), Health Bureau (SSM) Director Lei Chin Ion (right) and SSM Deputy Director Cheang Seng Ip applaud.  Photo: SSM

Health Bureau (SSM) Director Lei Chin Ion speaks to reporters at the Praia do Manduco Health Centre in Ha Van district yesterday.  Photo: Tony Wong

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