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Hong Kong to end mandatory hotel quarantine for travellers

Hong Kong chief executive John Lee speaks during a news conference in Hong Kong (Lam Yik/AP)
Hong Kong chief executive John Lee speaks during a news conference in Hong Kong (Lam Yik/AP)

Hong Kong will no longer need incoming travellers to quarantine in designated hotels as the city seeks to open up globally after nearly two years, its leader said.

Incoming travellers will also no longer need a negative PCR test within 48 hours before boarding a plane to Hong Kong, the city’s chief executive John Lee said on Friday at a press conference.

Instead, they will need to present a negative Covid-19 result from a rapid antigen test conducted within 24 hours before boarding the flight.

The measures will come into effect from Monday.

Virus Outbreak Hong Kong
Passengers sit in the departure hall in Hong Kong international airport (Lam Yik/AP)

“While we can control the trend of the epidemic, we must allow the maximum room to allow connectivity with the world, so that we can have economic momentum and to reduce inconvenience to arriving travellers,” said Mr Lee, who also said authorities will not roll back the measures announced on Friday.

He said that there must be a “balance between risks and economic growth”.

From Monday, travellers into Hong Kong will have to undergo three days of home monitoring.

If they test negative for Covid-19 after three days, they will be allowed into venues such as restaurants and bars.

For nearly two years, Hong Kong required overseas arrivals in the city to serve a period of mandatory quarantine in designated hotels.

At one point, the city had among the world’s longest quarantine periods at 21 days of mandatory isolation.

The easing of measures comes as Hong Kong prepares to hold several high-profile events, including the Rugby Sevens tournament in November and an international banking summit.

Neighbouring Taiwan is expected to do the same next month.

This leaves mainland China as one of the only places in the world that will still require travellers to quarantine on arrival.

Hong Kong has for most of the pandemic aligned with China’s “zero-Covid” strategy.

Virus Outbreak Hong Kong
Passengers queue up at the arrival hall for buses going to quarantine hotels from Hong Kong international airport (Lam Yik/AP)

Over the past two-and-a-half years, Hong Kong authorities have imposed strict social distancing measures and locked down residential buildings with confirmed Covid-19 infections to mass test residents.

The Rugby Sevens is making a comeback in the city for the first time since the pandemic began.

At a news conference on Friday, organizers said that risk mitigation measures will be taken for the tournament, which includes making sure that all players and officials involved have had at least two Covid-19 vaccinations.

Other measures taken include operating within a “competition bubble,” which ensures that teams will be sequestered on arrival, during the tournament and until departure.

On arrival, teams will be transported directly from the airport to designated hotels and will have dedicated team transport and training venues.

Organisers said 10,000 Rugby Sevens tickets will go on sale to the public on September 28.

“The return of the Hong Kong Sevens means business is returning too. And I know we can’t wait for both to fill the stands, and the streets and shops, restaurants and hopefully bars as well,” said financial secretary Paul Chan at the Rugby Sevens news conference.

“The momentum will keep on building. And long beyond. There will be no stopping our many prestigious international events,” Mr Chan said.

The relaxation of travel requirements drew optimistic reactions from some residents in the city.

“I think (reopening) has to be step-by-step, it’s positive,” said Samuel Tsang, a Hong Kong resident.

However, there are others who believe that three days of monitoring for arrivals is still an inconvenient measure.

“It’s too late. Everybody else has opened up for such a long time,” said Eva Leung.

“The economy has become like this, no one is coming,” she said, adding that it is still a hassle, especially for business travellers who have to move around the city for work. “It’s still not convenient.”