Hong Kong's leader has urged the city not to be fixated on a "0+0" Covid-19 arrangement which would end all restrictions for travellers, while reassuring the public he will lift more pandemic curbs even as caseloads rise in mainland China.
"Everyone has a different understanding of '0+0'. Therefore, I am not going to describe whether we are in [a stage] of 'zero-plus-what'," Chief Executive John Lee said on Tuesday, referring to demands to lift the three-day medical surveillance mandate for all inbound travellers, under the current '0+3' policy.
Lee was addressing a question in his weekly press briefing on whether authorities would give up pursuing the lifting of all travel restrictions, with a reporter citing an article by pro-Beijing heavyweight politician Lo Man-tuen, who said Hong Kong could not declare "0+0" because of the mainland's pandemic policy.
In an opinion piece in Ming Pao published on Tuesday, Lo, vice-chairman of the All-China Federation of Returned Overseas Chinese, wrote: "This is to take into account the perception of the mainland, in a bid to [allow the city] to better integrate with the mainland's entry arrangements and facilitate more Hongkongers to enter the mainland."
Lo added Hong Kong's "0+3" arrangement, implemented in September to end hotel quarantine, provided "an important reference" for the mainland, and contributed to Beijing's recent round of major Covid-19 relaxations after the Communist Party's Congress.
Lee, speaking ahead of the weekly meeting with the Executive Council, his key decision-making body, said authorities would formulate "targeted measures" for coming mega events and tour groups.
"Our policies have been simple and clear. We will minimise restrictions under the control of epidemic risks," he said.
"We understand that there has been an increasing trend in the mainland's [Covid-19] caseloads. We have the responsibility to ensure that we won't add risks to the mainland's epidemic control."
The number of coronavirus infections across China has hit a high since April 20, with authorities announcing that more than half of Guangzhou's population would need to be tested for Covid-19.
Lee added that discussions with the mainland on border restrictions had been proceeding under this principle.
To enable more Hong Kongers to travel without having to worry about limited hotel quotas across the border, Lee had proposed in September a "reverse quarantine" scheme after securing preliminary backing from mainland counterparts. The plan would allow travellers to first undergo isolation at designated facilities in the city.
Under the proposal, a makeshift Covid-19 treatment facility at the Lok Ma Chau Loop near the border could provide thousands of quarantine rooms for travellers headed for the mainland.
On Monday, Hong Kong reported 6,014 new Covid-19 infections, including 556 imported cases. Ten more deaths were also confirmed.