Shenzhen border ports need tighter control over cargo trucks: insiders
Published: Apr 12, 2020 07:43 PM

Aerial photo taken on July 11, 2018 shows the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge in south China. (Xinhua/Liang Xu)

With China under mounting pressure from imported cases of coronavirus infections, Shenzhen, South China's Guangdong Province, adjacent to Hong Kong, is tightening controls on movements by truck drivers to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

Although the move may shortcut Hong Kong-based drivers' business, industry insiders say that strict measures are necessary, calling for joint efforts to aid impaired companies when the epidemic is put under firm control.

Under a new edict issued by the Shenzhen authorities on April 3 and put into effect on Friday, truck drivers from Hong Kong must provide a digital health code and a document showing negative results of their nucleic acid tests to customs officers in Shenzhen.  Drivers failing to comply will be denied access.

As of Friday, drivers can take the tests in hospitals in Shenzhen or Hong Kong, or on-site at four land border ports in Shenzhen. The tests cost HK$350 ($45.15), which is paid by the government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, He Qun, deputy head of the Office of Port of Entry and Exit of the Shenzhen city, told a press conference on Friday.

There were 111,490 container trucks entering Shenzhen from Hong Kong from March 27 to April 9, He said. The drivers, totaling 25,101, all tested negative for the coronavirus, according to He. 

"Truck drivers, who have a large activity scale and wide contacts, have put much pressure on virus prevention," said He, adding that authorities in Shenzhen and Hong Kong have the records of 11,913 drivers who serve that route to fend off imposters.

Hundreds of container trucks may have failed to enter Shenzhen and were at the Wenjindu port waiting to return to Hong Kong because the drivers lacked health certificates on Friday, the day the new measures took effect, Hong Kong news site reported, citing estimates from Hong Kong's Container Transportation Employees General Union.

"Some drivers dropped out of the test because they could not get used to having a tube put into their throats to get a specimen for testing," said Huang Peng, chairman of M&S International Forwarding, a Shenzhen-based international forwarder.

The dilemmas encountered by the drivers and cuts in cargo transport between the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong - dubbed a "green lifeline" for Hong Kong residents - have aroused concerns about whether the city will run short of food and other supplies.

"Prices of vegetables and meat in Hong Kong have gone up by 15-20 percent recently, which can be attributed to a spate of factors including controls on truck drivers and a weakening consumption market in Hong Kong," Huang noted. Hong Kong largely depends on the mainland for daily necessities supply.

Fresh produce and meat transported via Shenzhen's ports may account for more than 85 percent of Hong Kong's market, according to the Shenzhen official He.

Hong Kong-based economist Liang Haiming told the Global Times on Sunday that although supplies in Hong Kong have been affected and prices have risen, local people understand the situation and believe that it won't last long.

"It is worth some business sacrifice during this difficult time and we need to quickly adapt to it, since the new measures aim to further check the virus' spread, which is quite necessary for such closely connected cities as Shenzhen and Hong Kong," said Liang.

Huang said it is prerequisite to protect the initial success of coronavirus control. Meanwhile, it is important to pay attention to follow-up measures that Shenzhen and Hong Kong will take to revive retail and trade when the epidemic subsides. 

Coronavirus infections in Hong Kong have spiked from 100 confirmed cases on March 1 to 1,001 as of Sunday. Among the cases, 418 were newly reported in the past two weeks, data from Hong Kong's Center for Health Protection showed. On Saturday, Shenzhen reported two new asymptomatic cases.