Hong Kong will reduce the period of time people entering the city must spend in hotel quarantine to three days from seven, a bolder-than-expected easing of its strict Covid-19 travel curbs, yet still leaving the Asian financial hub isolated in a world that’s mostly moved on from the pandemic.
People arriving at Hong Kong’s international airport will be required to undertake the reduced quarantine period at an approved hotel, and – if they don’t test positive for Covid – can then do four days of health monitoring either at home or in a hotel, Chief Executive John Lee said Monday.
The four-day monitoring period will be subject to relatively loose movement rules, with travelers able to leave their homes and only restricted from entering high-risk places.
“We want to reduce the impact from quarantine on our economic activities as well as our connection with the world,” Lee said at a briefing. The new rules come into effect Friday.
While the reduction is likely to be welcomed by residents, who faced mandatory hotel quarantines of as many as 21 days earlier in the pandemic, it still falls short of what business groups say Hong Kong needs in order to revive its global status.
“It is unlikely to benefit the broader business and tourist travel which will need a full lifting of quarantine controls,” David Graham, executive director of the British Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, said in a statement.
“This will be critical for Hong Kong’s economic and business outlook. We continue to encourage the government to move toward quarantine-free travel.”
Arrivals also still face the prospect of being sent to a community isolation facility should they test positive on one of the numerous Covid tests they’ll be required to take.
“For Hong Kong to be back on the map for stakeholders from abroad requires them to be able to come and leave as they would nearly everywhere else – that is without quarantine, tests on arrival or the worry that they may be sent to an isolation center if they should contract Covid while they’re here,” said Johannes Hack, president of the German Chamber of Commerce, Hong Kong.
Hong Kong has been making incremental changes to its virus response after an omicron-driven outbreak engulfed the city earlier this year.
The reduction to the quarantine period follows the removal of flight suspensions last month that imposed snap bans on certain routes if airlines inadvertently brought in Covid-infected passengers, making it difficult for travelers to plan their trips.
The easing measures implemented during Lee’s early days in office are part of his plan to restore the city’s stature without alienating Chinese officials committed to rooting out the virus.
Reducing quarantine for international arrivals isn’t in conflict with reopening the border with China and the two sides are communicating on the topic, Lee said Monday. He said he hopes that by explaining Hong Kong’s situation, the city can reach an understanding with mainland officials that there is room to gradually reduce cross-border travel inconveniences.
Reduced quarantine may not entirely ease headaches around travel into Hong Kong. Hotel rooms are in short supply, costs are high, while anyone who is infected in the days before their trip is forced to delay travel.
Travellers also face a busy schedule of tests:
- Day 0: PCR test and RAT on arrival at airport
- Day 1: Hotel isolation, RAT
- Day 2: Hotel isolation, PCR test and RAT
- Day 3: Last morning of hotel isolation, RAT. Ends after 9 a.m if tests are negative
- Day 4: Home health surveillance: PCR test in community testing center or private lab, RAT. Not allowed to go to high-risk places
- Day 5: Home health surveillance: No PCR, need to do RAT. Not allowed to go to high-risk places.
- Day 6: Home health surveillance: PCR test in community testing center or private lab, RAT. Not allowed to go to high-risk places
- Day 7: Last morning of home health surveillance, RAT. Allowed to go to high-risk places after 9am if tests are negative
- Day 8: Health surveillance: No PCR, need to do RAT. Allowed to move freely in community
- Day 9: Health surveillance: PCR in community testing center or private lab, RAT. Allowed to move freely in community
- Day 10: Last morning of health surveillance, RAT. Ends after 9am if tests are negative
Traffic light system
Officials also unveiled a tiered health-code system for those sent to quarantine reminiscent of what’s used in mainland China.
A yellow code will be given to inbound travelers, which they’ll keep until they finish health surveillance, while anyone testing positive will be given a red code on the smartphone app. A blue code will be shown in Hong Kong’s own LeaveHomeSafe app once the quarantine or health monitoring period has ended.
Lee made no mention of whether Monday’s announcement was a first step toward scrapping quarantine entirely, even as pandemic restrictions weigh on the economy and Hong Kong’s reputation as a global hub. Gross domestic product contracted 1.4% in the second quarter from a year earlier.
The city reported more than 4,000 Covid infections on Sunday.
Schools will continue to operate half days in the upcoming school year until further notice, the government said on Friday. An isolation facility with 3,000 units at the site of the city’s old airport has just been brought online, with the security minister highlighting sea views from some of the rooms in a social media post.
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