Minister unveils details of scheme allowing Hongkongers to embark on stop-free sea voyages; conditions include full vaccination, compulsory testing, half capacity ‘Seacation’ plan permits residents to holiday outside Hong Kong without having to undergo quarantine
Hongkongers will be allowed to holiday at sea from as early as July when the government launches so-called cruises to nowhere, with officials imposing strict health controls on operators, passengers and crew.
Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau Tang-wah said on Wednesday that all passengers and crew would have to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in advance of travel and must undergo testing, while ships could only operate at half capacity.
In the event of any outbreak on board, vessels must immediately return to Hong Kong, he said.
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Under the plan, Hong Kong cruise departures will resume in late July at the earliest and passengers under the scheme will not have to undergo quarantine. Cruises have not been running since February last year when the coronavirus took hold of the city.
“We had a history of having an outbreak on board a cruise ship last year, therefore, we need to strike a balance between pandemic control and leisure,” he said, referring an incident on a World Dream cruise ship.
“Having crew and passengers vaccinated is a trend widely adopted for this kind of tour.”
Crew on board must comply with stringent pandemic measures, such as undergoing compulsory quarantine upon arrival in Hong Kong, taking polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests and having received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Passengers are also required to be fully vaccinated and must use the government’s contact-tracing “Leave Home Safe” app before and after boarding. They must be screened for the coronavirus 48 hours before boarding.
Crew members and passengers who are physically unfit for vaccination must present medical proof.
Those unvaccinated crew members are required to take a PCR test every seven days shoreside, and submit to testing every three days while on board.
Tourism has been virtually eliminated since the closure of all but three border checkpoints in Hong Kong, with the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal among those not operating.
Hong Kong will become the latest city after Singapore in Asia to launch such cruises. The journeys will venture into high seas but will not make any stops at other destinations for public health reasons. Britain recently announced similar voyages to launch this summer.
Hong Kong earlier ran a “flight to nowhere,” which flew passengers around the city without leaving its airspace.
In February last year, thousands of passengers and crew members were quarantined for days aboard the World Dream cruise ship in Victoria Harbour after some travellers and staff members reported having a fever or respiratory symptoms.
They were only allowed to disembark after everyone’s tests came back negative.
Hong Kong Tourism Board chairman Pang Yiu-kai welcomed the return of high-seas cruises, which marks the first step for the industry’s recovery. The board pledged to work with consumers and cruise lines to rebuild passenger confidence.