The Hong Kong government has announced the end of the official quarantine for international travelers after more than two and a half years of strict pandemic controls.
Under new rules that will come into effect from September 26, inbound travelers will have to undergo three days of self-monitoring upon arrival.
The Hong Kong government has faced considerable pressure from its business community and some public health officials to ease restrictions amid a faltering economy, an outflow of foreigners and fears that the financial hub, once known as “Asia’s World City”, is left behind. the rest of the world has moved on from the pandemic.
Baby with Covid separated from family and quarantined alone in Hong Kong
Hong Kong chief executive John Lee told a much-anticipated press conference on Friday that the number of infections in the city had stabilized, allowing the quarantine to be lifted.
“We hope to give maximum scope to reconnect Hong Kong and revitalize our economy,” Lee said.
Incoming travelers will be able to complete their three days of self-monitoring at home or at a location of their choice. During this time, they will be able to go out but will be limited to certain places.
Arrivals will no longer need to provide a negative PCR test before boarding a plane. However, they will be required to provide a negative Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) 24 hours prior to boarding.
During the three-day monitoring period, people will be assigned an amber color under the city’s numerical health code, which will prevent them from entering places such as bars or restaurants.
They will have to do PCR tests on days 2, 4 and 6 after their arrival, and a RAT test every day for seven days after their arrival.
The change in policy came after Japan announced it would reopen its borders from October 11 and after Taiwan announced plans to scrap its mandatory quarantine on October 13 if the island had passed the peak of its last Omicron BA-5 outbreak.
Questions over when the city would ease restrictions grew sharper as two major international events, the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens Tournament and a World Banking Conference, were scheduled for November and seen as a way to revive the besieged city, which was shaken. in recent years with pro-democracy protests and Beijing’s ensuing crackdown on civil liberties.
While various governments introduced border controls after the pandemic hit, most have since rolled back the measures, including Singapore, which typically rivals Hong Kong in attracting foreign businesses and talent.
But unlike other global hubs, Hong Kong’s Covid-19 policies have long been seen as closely tied to mainland China, where Beijing continues to maintain a strict zero-Covid policy and border quarantines, with no signs easing because the eradication of the infection remains a peak. priority.
Calls for the relaxation of international border controls under Lee’s predecessor, Carrie Lam, who left office on June 30, have been thwarted by a competing demand to open up quarantine-free travel to the mainland – a proposal that has not yet been fulfilled.
A public signal of Beijing’s support for Hong Kong’s new political path came on September 20, when Deputy Chief of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office Huang Liuquan said the Hong Kong government had coordinated its policies based on its local situation and that adjustments had been made. no need to be “overinterpreted”.
While Hong Kong’s new international arrivals policy may not herald an imminent change in mainland policy, it does signal divergent situations on either side of the border.
Although the city kept local cases to a minimum for the first two years of the pandemic, Hong Kong experienced an explosive outbreak of the highly infectious variant of Omicron earlier this year and has not revived a zero-Covid stance. from. Instead, the city continued to count between hundreds and thousands of daily cases. Official records show more than 1.7million cases have been reported in the city of 7.4million, although experts believe the true number is higher.
In mainland China, by contrast, the vast majority of the country has yet to be exposed to the virus — putting its population at a deficit in natural immunity to infection, a concern for health officials who fear the large-scale epidemic strain on the healthcare system.
Hong Kong’s new measures come more than 900 days after the city first adopted border restrictions in March 2020 and nearly two years after making hotel quarantines mandatory for all international arrivals in December. 2020. At its longest, the quarantine period extended to 21 days. Travelers who tested positive during quarantine were moved to designated facilities, including, at times, government-run camps.
The program became increasingly controversial among the public after Covid-19 vaccines became widely available, local case numbers rose and places with similar systems like New Zealand and Australia opened their doors. borders.
This summer, a shortage of available hotel rooms and limited flights sparked public anger as travelers risked being trapped out of town until a free room opens up if their route was disrupted, for example by catching Covid-19 or having a flight postponed.
Some restrictions have been relaxed in recent months. In May, non-residents of Hong Kong were allowed to enter the city from overseas for the first time in more than two years, while a scheme that suspended some flights with Covid-positive passengers was abandoned in July.
Earlier this summer, Lee’s administration reduced the quarantine from one week to three days, plus an additional four days of health surveillance, during which arrivals are not allowed to go to places such as the bars, gyms and restaurants.
Hotel quarantine and pre-flight testing requirements had been seen as a significant remaining barrier to getting to the city, although questions remain about the role the new plan will play in reviving the city’s once vibrant tourism industry.