Hong Kong lifts international travel quarantine after more than 900 days

Arriving passengers will need three days of self-monitoring upon arrival, under the new rules, which will come into effect from September 26.

The Hong Kong government has faced significant pressure from business and some public health officials to loosen restrictions amid concerns that a faltering economy, a foreign exit and the financial hub once known as “Asia’s World City” has been left behind. The rest of the world has moved away from the pandemic.

Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee said at a much-anticipated press conference on Friday that the city’s infection numbers have stabilized, allowing for the quarantine to be lifted.

“We hope to give the maximum space to reconnect Hong Kong and stimulate our economy,” Lee said.

Arriving passengers will be able to do their three-day self-monitoring at home or at a location of their choice. They will be able to go outside during this time, but will be restricted from certain places.

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

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

The policy change comes after Japan announced it would reopen its borders from October 11, and Taiwan announced that it aims to lift its mandatory lockdown on October 13 if the island passes the peak of the latest Omicron BA-5 outbreak.

As two major international events, the Hong Kong Sevens rugby tournament and a global banking conference, are scheduled for November, questions about when the city will loosen restrictions have become more apparent, seen as a way to revitalize the shaken besieged city. pro-democracy protests in recent years and subsequent crackdowns on civil liberties by Beijing.
While various governments have introduced border controls following the outbreak of the pandemic, most have rolled back the measures, including Singapore, which typically competes with Hong Kong to attract foreign businesses and talent.
But unlike other global hubs, Hong Kong’s Covid-19 policies have long since shown no signs of easing as Beijing continues to maintain a strict zero Covid policy and border quarantines and infection eradication remains at its peak. appears to be closely related. priority.

Calls for the relaxation of international border controls, led by Lee’s predecessor Carrie Lam, who stepped down on June 30, were thwarted by a competing demand to open quarantine-free travel to the mainland – an offer that has yet to be fulfilled.

On September 20, a public signal of Beijing’s support for Hong Kong’s new policy route came when Huang Liuquan, deputy head of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, said that the Hong Kong government was coordinating its policies in accordance with the local situation and regulations. No need for “overcomment”.

While the new policy for international arrivals in Hong Kong does not herald an imminent change in mainland policy, it is a sign of different situations on both sides of the border.

While the city kept local cases to a minimum during the first two years of the pandemic, Hong Kong suffered an explosive outbreak of the highly contagious Omicron variant earlier this year and has not rekindled its zero-Kovid stance since. Instead, the city continued to track hundreds and thousands of daily cases. Authorities’ records show more than 1.7 million cases have been reported in cities of 7.4 million, but experts believe the real number is higher.

In mainland China, by contrast, the vast majority of the country has yet to be exposed to the virus – leaving its population at a standstill when it comes to natural immunity to infection, a concern for health officials there. Widespread epidemic in the healthcare system.

Hong Kong bet on zero Covid.  Now it faces an 'avoidable disaster'.

Hong Kong’s new measures come more than 900 days after the city first enacted border restrictions in March 2020, and nearly two years after it mandated hotel quarantine for all international arrivals in December 2020. The longest quarantine period has been extended to 21 days. Passengers who tested positive during the quarantine were occasionally transported to designated facilities, including government-run camps.

The program has become increasingly controversial among the public as COVID-19 vaccines become more widespread, the number of local cases increases, and places with similar systems such as New Zealand and Australia open their borders.

The shortage of available hotel rooms and limited flights this summer has fueled public anger as travelers risk being stranded outside the city until a free room is available when their itinerary is interrupted, for example by contracting Covid-19 or rescheduling a flight.

Some restrictions have been eased in recent months. In May, non-Hong Kong citizens were allowed to enter the city from overseas for the first time in more than two years, while in July a plan that suspended some Covid-positive travelers was canceled.

Earlier this summer, Lee’s administration reduced the quarantine from one week to three days, and also introduced an additional four days of health monitoring, where arrivals are not allowed to go to places like bars, gyms and restaurants.

Hotel quarantine and pre-flight testing requirements were still seen as a major barrier to travel to the city. Questions remain as to what role the new plan will play in reviving the city’s once vibrant tourism industry.

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