Hong Kong will end its mandatory Covid-19 hotel quarantine policy on Monday, Chief Executive John Lee said today as he announced the city’s largest lifting of travel restrictions since he took office in July.
But arrivals from overseas will still be banned from entering high-risk venues such as restaurants and bars during their first three days, raising doubts about the effectiveness of the measures targeted at wooing travelers and expatriate workers back to Hong Kong.
Inbound travelers to Hong Kong currently have to quarantine in designated hotels for three days, followed by four days of medical surveillance at home or in hotels, during which they cannot enter designated high-risk areas like restaurants, bars and gyms.
Under the new policy, arrivals can go home or to a hotel of their choice after completing testing in the airport for three days of medical surveillance.
During this period of time, they can go out but will not be able to enter venues that are required to check visitors using the city’s vaccine pass system, such as restaurants and bars.
Lee told reporters that Hong Kong’s attractiveness is not just related to its anti-pandemic measures.
“We are the freest economy in the world. We have a very well-developed infrastructure. Our tax rate is very low… Also, Hong Kong is the gateway to the mainland market. We have a lot of appeal and attractions and a lot of advantages that people will take into consideration whether they [want to] come to Hong Kong,” said Lee.
Despite this latest loosening of restrictions, Hong Kong’s Covid-19 policies are still stricter than many of its economic competitors like Singapore, where there is no quarantine, medical surveillance or vaccination requirement needed for arrivals.
Secretary for Health Lo Chung-mau explained that authorities were able to scrap the quarantine requirements because the traffic light-style health code system in Hong Kong, which is akin to that used in the mainland to ensure infected individuals are barred from entering high-risk venues, has been effective in controlling the risk of the spread of Covid-19 in recent months.
“We can see that imported cases have not affected the local pandemic situation and have not given additional pressure to our public healthcare system,” he said.
Besides the lifting of quarantine, officials also said that arrivals will no longer need to provide proof of a negative PCR test result done within 48 hours of their flights.
Instead, they will only need to submit a negative rapid antigen test (RAT) result within 24 hours of their flights.
Currently, arrivals are required to take a PCR test at the airport and wait for their result before going to their designated quarantine hotel. Starting Monday, inbound travelers can leave the airport after taking the test and only need to stay at home or their hotel of choice while waiting for the result.
They will also be allowed to take any mode of transportation, including public transport, to leave the airport.
Inbound travelers will still have to take daily RAT tests for eight days after their arrival. They also have to head to a community testing center to get PCR tests done on the third, fifth and seventh days.
Hong Kong residents who are not fully vaccinated can return to Hong Kong although they will still need to get all the required jabs before they are allowed to use the city’s vaccine pass to enter a range of venues including restaurants, cinemas, supermarkets and shopping malls.
Non-Hong Kong residents have to have completed the required two doses of vaccines or have a medical exemption for entry into Hong Kong.
Despite the major easing of restrictions, Lee rejected the idea that the city is taking a “living with Covid-19” approach, which is not in line with mainland China’s Covid-zero policy.
He stressed that authorities still planned to control the number of infections but would do so while balancing Hong Kong’s economic needs.
News of the restrictions’ easing appears to have led a surge of people to immediately look into getting flights to or out of Hong Kong.
At around 5pm, Hong Kong’s flag carrier Cathay Pacific’s website said it was experiencing high traffic and told visitors there would be a wait time of around 15 minutes just to access its booking system.