Hong Kong mandates COVID-19 tests for cargo ship crew

Hong Kong port and workers. Credit: DP World

Hong Kong has tightened entry to on-signing seafarers for cargo ships, with crew members required to produce a negative COVID-19 test result that must be obtained within 48 hours before departing from the last place of embarkation.

The Centre for Health Protection (CHP), a unit under Hong Kong’s Department of Health, had issued the directive to the territory’s Marine Department on 9 July. The new measure was started on 10 July.

CHP said that the test should be performed by an ISO 15189-accredited laboratory or a laboratory recognised by the government.

The shipping company or agent must also declare on the guarantee letter to be submitted to the Hong Kong Immigration Department that the crew member(s) concerned has/have tested negative for COVID-19 within 48 hours prior to his/her time of departure from the place of embarkation in an ISO 15189-accredited laboratory or a laboratory recognised by the government.

Crew are required to present the test report and guarantee letter to the staff of the Department of Health when he/she enters Hong Kong.

Crew members who do not possess negative test results will be denied entry and deported to their country of origin.

The Hong Kong government’s decision came a month after it joined several countries in relaxing restrictions on crew change on 9 June 2020. At the time, on-signing crew were only required to enter Hong Kong when the ship arrived in port, and to travel straight to the vessel from the airport. For now, however, there have been no changes to the entry criteria for crew on cruise ships.

Following the emergence of a COVID-19 cluster on the container ship MSC Flavia on 26 June, medical experts urged the Hong Kong government to impose tighter checks on seafarers, as they work in close proximity with one another on ships.

Hong Kong is also seeing a rise in COVID-19 cases after easing up on social distancing, after containing the virus well earlier in the year, prompting the closure of tourist attractions in the past week. CHP said that between 5 July and 11 July, there were 173 confirmed COVID-19 cases, of which 107 were community transmissions.