Coronavirus: ‘Hong Kong food shortage risk’ after mainland China tightens border virus checks

Cannix Yau

Hong Kong could face food shortages after mainland Chinese authorities tightened controls on the city’s 10,000 cross-border truckers to battle the Covid-19 outbreak, a drivers’ group has warned.

From Saturday, drivers without a health certificate from a hospital saying they have not tested positive for the coronavirus in the previous two weeks will be refused entry at the border.

The new health measures, announced by Shenzhen authorities on Wednesday, came as a shock for many of Hong Kong’s cross-border truckers, who would need to get a health certificate before the rules come in.

“The new requirement is imposed in such a rush, which is an impossible thing for the cross-border drivers, especially when local hospitals are operating under very strained resources and manpower right now,” Stanley Chiang Chi-wai, chairman of the Hong Kong Land Transport Council, said.

He said he met transport minister Frank Chan Fan on Thursday afternoon, and urged him to negotiate with authorities across the border for a postponement of the new measure, and look into issuing an approved list of mainland hospitals, or clinics on either side of the border, where drivers could get the required certificate.

“We need more time to get the health certificates. Also, since local hospitals are very busy handling the coronavirus outbreak they don’t have any resources for conducting tests and issuing health certificates for other unrelated parties,” he said.

According to Chiang, Chan promised to fight for a postponement of the new border control requirement from the Shenzhen authorities and inform Chiang’s group of the results in due course.

Chiang warned that if the deadline was not postponed, Hong Kong could face a food shortage, leading to profiteering and another round of panic buying by residents.

Silent coronavirus carriers ‘unlikely to set off another wave’

“The new health requirement will certainly affect the operation of cross-border truck drivers as well as the supply of goods, especially food, to Hong Kong,” he warned.

Hui Wai-kin, vice-chairman of Hong Kong Food Council, an industry group, said the truck drivers could also get a health certificate at some clinics but he did not rule out the possibility of a shortage in goods for a short period of time.

“There’s no need for panic. I believe both the Hong Kong and mainland governments will negotiate a way out for the cross-border truck drivers,” he said.

“If there’s no postponement, in the beginning there might be a cut in cross-border services for the transport of goods to Hong Kong. The import of fresh food such as livestock and fresh fruit and vegetables may be affected.

According to the Census and Statistics Department, mainland China is the largest origin of Hong Kong’s imports. In 2018, imports from the mainland accounted for 46.3 per cent of the value of Hong Kong’s total, at HK$2.18 trillion.

Asked whether the government would issue health certificates to cross-border truck drivers and transport workers to meet the new entry requirement, Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the Centre for Health Protection’s communicable disease branch, said: “The department does not have the service of providing health certificates.”

This article Coronavirus: ‘Hong Kong food shortage risk’ after mainland China tightens border virus checks first appeared on South China Morning Post

For the latest news from the South China Morning Post download our mobile app. Copyright 2020.