Hong Kong could allow quarantine-free travel by November: Health secretary

Hong Kong aims to scrap hotel quarantine in November, according to a Bloomberg report. Photo: Hong Kong’s Information Services Department
Hong Kong aims to scrap hotel quarantine in November, according to a Bloomberg report. Photo: Hong Kong’s Information Services Department

Travelers to Hong Kong could be allowed to skip Covid-19 quarantine — but with certain conditions attached — by November, according to an exclusive interview by the South China Morning Post with the city’s secretary for health, Lo Chung-mau.

In the interview, published on Wednesday, Lo said Hong Kong might opt for a different approach to lowering the risk of importation of the virus by inbound travelers by November, which could include PCR screenings and a ban from entering high-risk venues such as bars.

“Is nothing required any more? I think that would be a bit tough. At least PCR testing is needed. But does quarantine have to be confined to a fixed location? … Could it be medical surveillance, plus a yellow code and not appearing in a bar for the first few days? I won’t rule that out. I very much hope to achieve that as well because I like to travel too,” the paper quoted Lo as saying.

Inbound travelers to Hong Kong currently have to quarantine for seven days in hotels, at their own cost, and face six rounds of PCR testing before and after arriving.

The strict rules have triggered an exodus of expatriate workers, especially in the financial sector, raising concerns that the city is losing its global financial hub status following more than two years of closed borders

But it is planning on luring international businesses back with a major conference of global financiers and top bankers on November 1 and 2, organized by the Hong Kong Monetary Authority.

During the interview, Lo told SCMP that Beijing would not “blindly ask Hong Kong to follow its policies”, which is an example of how the “One Country, Two Systems” principle is applied in the city. He added, “This should delight all our foreign businesses.”

The health chief also revealed predictions of a rebound in the territory’s coronavirus cases and a peak in September with up to 10,000 patients needing hospitalization, but he pledged not to let the situation get out of control.

Lo, who is a liver transplant expert and a former chief executive at the University of Hong Kong-Shenzhen Hospital, has implemented a slew of policy reforms since he took the reins of the Health Bureau on July 1.

One of those changes was last week’s suspension of the controversial Covid-19 flight ban policy that had prohibited airlines from flying a particular route for five days if at least five passengers or five percent of the total number of passengers on board (whichever was higher) tested positive upon arrival.

However, inbound travelers now have to undergo an extra PCR test on the third day after their arrival.

The city has been seeing a rise in Covid-19 cases recently, with 2,000 to 3,000 new infections reported daily.

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