June 24, 2020 / 9:24 AM / 16 days ago

Taiwan to ease travel curbs for Hong Kong people for 'humanitarian' reasons

FILE PHOTO: Hong Kong anti-government demonstrators gather at Liberty Square in Taipei to mark the 31st anniversary of the crackdown of pro-democracy protests at Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989, Taiwan, June 4, 2020. REUTERS/Ann Wang

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan will ease its coronavirus border restrictions to allow in people from Hong Kong for humanitarian reasons, the government said on Wednesday, ahead of Taiwan’s opening of an office to help people wanting to flee the Chinese-ruled city.

Taiwan said earlier this month it would set up a dedicated office to help those thinking of leaving Hong Kong as Beijing tightens its grip on the former British colony, including planned new national security legislation.

The new office begins operations on the sensitive date of July 1, the day Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with the promise of continued, wide-ranging freedoms under China’s “one country, two systems” formula.

Taiwan largely closed its borders in mid-March to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, meaning anyone who wished to come to the island from Hong Kong would have found it very difficult.

In a statement, Taiwan’s Central Epidemic Command Centre said that from Monday, Hong Kong people who wish to travel to Taiwan for “special humanitarian considerations” would be allowed to apply to be let in, though they will have to prove before they come they do not have the coronavirus.

They will also have to complete 14 days of quarantine, as do all arrivals into Taiwan.

China, which claims democratic Taiwan as its own territory, has condemned Taipei’s government for offering to help people from Hong Kong, which was hit by months of sometimes violent anti-China, pro-democracy unrest before coronavirus curbs were introduced. China denies meddling in Hong Kong’s affairs.

Taiwan has been extremely successful at controlling the spread of the virus, thanks to early and effective prevention work, and has never gone into complete lockdown, unlike other countries around the world.

The epidemic command centre said in a separate statement that from Thursday it will also re-allow some passengers to transit via Taipei’s main international airport, though they will not be allowed to leave the airport and will be kept separate from other passengers.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie

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