Hong Kong removes international travel quarantine after more than 900 days

Hong Kong

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 epidemic controls.

Under the new rules, which will take effect from September 26, incoming travelers will be required to undergo three days of self-monitoring upon arrival.

The Hong Kong government has faced great pressure from the business community and some public health officials to ease restrictions amid a faltering economy, an influx of foreigners abroad and fears that the financial centre, formerly known as “Asia’s global city”, has been left behind. The rest of the world has moved on from the pandemic.

Child with Covid separated from his family and isolated alone in Hong Kong

Hong Kong’s chief executive, John Lee, said at a much-anticipated press conference on Friday that the city’s infection numbers had stabilised, allowing quarantine to be removed.

“We hope to create maximum space to reconnect with Hong Kong, and to revive our economy,” Lee said.

Incoming travelers will be able to do the three-day self-monitoring at home or at a location of their choice. During this time they will be able to go out but will be blocked from some places.

Arrivals will no longer need to submit a negative PCR test before boarding the plane. However, they will need to submit a negative rapid antigen test (RAT) 24 hours before they board the plane.

During the three-day monitoring period, people will be assigned an amber color under the city’s digital health code, which will prevent them from entering places such as bars or restaurants.

They will need to have PCR tests done on days 2, 4 and 6 after arrival, and a RAT test every day for seven days after arrival.

The shift in policy came after Japan announced it would reopen its borders from October 11 and after Taiwan said it aimed to scrap a mandatory quarantine on October 13 if the island passed the peak of its recent Omicron BA-5 outbreak.

Questions about when the city will ease restrictions are becoming clearer as two major international events, the Hong Kong Sevens rugby tournament and a world banking conference, were scheduled in November and seen as a way to revive the besieged city, which has been rocked in recent years by pro-democracy protests. And the subsequent crackdown on civil liberties by Beijing.

While many governments imposed border controls in the wake of the pandemic, most have since rolled back the measures, including Singapore, which normally competes with Hong Kong to attract foreign business and talent.

But unlike other global hubs, Hong Kong’s COVID-19 policies have long been seen as closely linked to mainland China, as Beijing continues to maintain a strict anti-coronavirus policy and quarantine at the border, with no sign of Mitigation is where the elimination of infection is still at the fore. priority.

Calls for loosening international border controls under Lee’s predecessor Carrie Lam, who left office on June 30, have faltered due to a rival request to open quarantine-free travel to the mainland – a proposal that has yet to materialise.

A public sign of Beijing’s support for Hong Kong’s new policy path emerged on September 20, when Deputy Head of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office Huang Liuquan said the Hong Kong government had been coordinating its policies in line with its domestic situation, and had made adjustments. You don’t need to “over-interpret”.

While the new policy for international arrivals in Hong Kong may not be a harbinger of an imminent change in mainland policy, it is a sign of divergent attitudes on both sides of the border.

Although the city kept local cases to a minimum during the first two years of the pandemic, Hong Kong experienced an explosive outbreak of the highly contagious variant Omicron earlier this year and has not resurrected a zero-Covid situation since. Instead, the city continued to register hundreds and thousands of daily cases. Officials’ records show that more than 1.7 million cases have been reported in the city of 7.4 million people, although experts believe the true number is higher.

In contrast, in mainland China, the vast majority of the country has not yet been exposed to the virus — putting its population in a powerless state when it comes to natural immunity to infection, a concern for health officials there who fear widespread strain. outbreak on the health care system.

The new measures in Hong Kong come more than 900 days after the city first imposed border restrictions in March 2020 and nearly two years after it quarantined all international arrivals in December 2020. In the longest period, the quarantine period was extended to 21 days. Travelers who tested positive during quarantine were transferred to designated facilities, including, at times, government-run camps.

The program became increasingly controversial among the public after Covid-19 vaccines became more widely available, local case numbers rose, and places with similar regulations such as New Zealand and Australia opened their borders.

The dearth of available hotel rooms and limited flights this summer sparked public outrage as travelers risked getting caught out of town so that a free room would be unlocked if their itinerary was disrupted, for example by catching Covid-19 or rescheduling a flight.

Certain restrictions have been loosened in recent months. In May, non-residents of Hong Kong were allowed to enter the city from abroad for the first time in more than two years, while a scheme that suspended some flights with Covid-infected passengers in July was cancelled.

Earlier this summer, Lee’s administration reduced the quarantine from one week to three days, as well as an additional four days of health monitoring, in which entrants are not allowed to go to places including bars, gyms and restaurants.

However, hotel quarantine and pre-flight testing requirements were seen as a significant remaining hurdle to travel into the city. Questions remain about what role the new plan will play in reviving the city’s vibrant tourism industry.

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