Hong Kong’s leader announced that the city would no longer quarantine incoming travelers at designated hotels as it aims to remain competitive after nearly two years and remain open globally.
Inbound travelers will also no longer need a negative PCR test within 48 hours before boarding a plane to Hong Kong, the city director, John Lee, said at a news conference Friday. Instead, they must provide a negative COVID-19 result from a rapid antigen test performed within 24 hours of the flight.
The measures will take effect on Monday.
“While we cannot control the trend of the epidemic, we need to provide the maximum space to allow connectivity to the world so that we can have economic momentum and reduce the inconvenience for arriving travelers,” said Lee, who also said that the authorities will not reverse the measures announced on Friday.
He said there must be a “balance between risk and economic growth”.
Canadians are looking for flights: report
Travelers entering Hong Kong will be required to undergo home monitoring for three days from Monday. If they test negative for COVID-19 after three days, they will be allowed to enter locations such as restaurants and bars. They must also undergo several mandatory PCR tests, including one on arrival, as well as on their second, fourth and sixth days in Hong Kong, along with daily antigen rapid tests every day for their first week.
The easing of travel restrictions in Hong Kong sparked a stampede on flight bookings.
China’s Global Times reported that hours after the announcement, Canada was among the top locations for searches for international flights to Hong Kong on the online travel agency platform Qunar.
Cathay Pacific’s website “experienced high traffic” after the announcement was made. Visitors to the site had to wait in a virtual queue to get in.
Daily COVID-19 infections in the city have fallen to less than 6,000 cases per day, from more than 10,000 daily cases at the beginning of this month. A large majority are local infections.
Mainland China an outlier
For nearly two years, Hong Kong overseas arrivals in the city required them to undergo a period of mandatory quarantine at designated hotels. At one point, the city had one of the longest quarantine periods in the world, with 21 days of mandatory isolation.
Neighboring Taiwan is expected to do the same next month. This makes mainland China one of the few places in the world where travelers are still quarantined upon arrival.
Hong Kong has aligned itself with China’s “zero-COVID” strategy for most of the pandemic.
Over the past 2½ years, Hong Kong authorities have imposed strict social distancing measures and closed residential buildings with confirmed COVID-19 infections to mass-test residents.
An outbreak there earlier this year forced Air Canada to cancel flights to Hong Kong for a period of several weeks. Earlier in the pandemic, some Canadian airline workers became entangled in strict quarantines after testing positive for COVID-19, despite leaving after testing negative at home.
As the rest of the world reopened borders, companies urged Hong Kong authorities to devise a pandemic exit strategy to remain competitive amid a brain drain as tens of thousands of residents left the city.
Several companies also moved their offices to countries such as Singapore as they sought relief from the city’s constraints.
Singapore had eased travel restrictions and relaxed coronavirus restrictions months before Hong Kong, raising concerns that Hong Kong could lose competitiveness as an international financial center and regional business center.
The easing of measures comes as Hong Kong prepares to host several high-profile events, including the Rugby Sevens tournament in November and an international banking summit.