Hong Kong people could soon be able to go on cruises again, but only if they are fully vaccinated and as long as the ships don't actually go anywhere in particular.
Commerce Secretary Edward Yau said on Monday that "cruises to nowhere" would allow people who have been "stranded for quite a long time" in Hong Kong to start travelling again, possibly in the summer.
But the ships won't be able to stop off anywhere and after a short voyage in international waters, they would sail back to Hong Kong, he said.
With ship crews coming from all over the world, Yau said "exceptional measures" would be needed to make sure journeys are safe, and the government is in negotiations with cruise operators.
"If sufficient precautions are being taken, if crew members fulfil all the quarantine, testing, as well as vaccination requirements, would it be a safe start for a selected few to have these limited short cruises? Extra protection for patrons: they also need to do the vaccination, which is becoming a new norm for any resumption of travelling in the long term," he said.
The CEO of travel agency WWPKG, Yuen Chun-ning, told RTHK that as well as the vaccinations, people joining cruises would also need to provide proof that they had tested negative for Covid-19 in the previous 72 hours.
Four-day or three-day tours would be provided for around HK$1,000 per day, he said.
Cruise ships would only be able to operate at half their capacity, but such trips would be "better than nothing" for the travel industry, Yuen said.
He added that travelling by ship would be safer than taking public transport due to the strict infection-control measures.
Tourism sector lawmaker Yiu Si-wing echoed this view, saying the measures would be tighter than those for hotels, and the ships would have negative-pressure rooms and doctors on board.
Those on cruises would have a lower chance of catching Covid than they would out in the community, Yiu added.
Towards the beginning of the pandemic, several hundred people came down with the coronavirus on the Diamond Princess cruise ship. Scores of Hongkongers were infected in the massive outbreak and a small number of them died.