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Government mulls easing of foreigners’ entry ban

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

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UPDATED: 22 Dec 2023, 5:47 am

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

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

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

Lei made the remarks while speaking to reporters after attending Tuesday’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 Macao since 18 March, and the entry ban was extended to foreign non-resident workers the next day. However, foreign nationals holding a Macao ID card are allowed to enter Macao. This means that all foreign nationals without a Macao ID card are currently barred from entering the city, regardless of where they have been before their intended entry into Macao.

Based on the “One China” policy, which is strictly adhered to by the Macao 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 Macao’s normal operation and the provision of daily necessities for residents, Macao’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 Macao for important meetings, and persons who are “very important” to Macao’s economic recovery such as those involved in the upcoming Macao Grand Prix (MGP). All those foreigners who have been exempted from the entry ban have been subject to Macao’s 14-day quarantine requirement, the Health Bureau has said.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Lei said that for the time being it is unsuitable for Macao 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 Macao’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 on Tuesday that due to the globally serious COVID-19 pandemic, for the time being, the Macao government will not consider relaxing its existing border entry curbs, adding that Macao 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 Macao.

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

No relaxation vis-à-vis HK

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

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

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

(The Macau Post Daily/Macau News)
PHOTO © The Macau Post Daily/Tony Wong

UPDATED: 22 Dec 2023, 5:47 am

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