Hong Kong set to relax some COVID rules

Hong Kong: Hong Kong wants to relax COVID-19 rules like mandatory hotel quarantine that have made travel difficult for nearly three years in a bid to keep the city connected with the rest of the world and allow an “orderly opening-up”.

The city’s leader, John Lee, said he was conscious Hong Kong needed to retain its competitiveness, adding that authorities were keen to bring back events and activities to the city.

A man wearing a face mask walks along a downtown street in Hong Kong.Credit:AP

“We know exactly where we should be heading and want to be consistent as we move in that direction. We would like to have an orderly opening-up … because we don’t want to have chaos or confusion in the process,” he told reporters.

Taking its cues from China which is pursuing a zero-COVID policy, Hong Kong is one of the few places in the world to still require travellers from abroad to quarantine upon arrival, although the length of quarantine has eased over time. Currently, arrivals must pay for three days in a hotel and follow that with four days of self-monitoring.

The number of infections in the Asian financial hub has fallen to about 6000 a day, creating room to reconsider the measures that have crimped the city’s competitiveness, Lee said. Hotel quarantine will be replaced with seven days of home health monitoring, the South China Morning Post reported, though it said the change won’t be announced until all the details have been determined.

Hong Kong’s residents have been anticipating a reduction in the travel curbs, including hotel quarantine requirements and pre-flight PCR testing, as a series of high-profile international events are slated for the last quarter of this year including a major finance conference and the international Rugby Sevens in November. Bankers have said quarantine-free travel is a precondition for attending the conference.

People wearing protective masks walk through an outdoor market in Hong Kong.

People wearing protective masks walk through an outdoor market in Hong Kong.Credit:AP

Business groups, diplomats and many residents have slammed hotel quarantine rules, in place since March 2020, as well as the city’s other COVID restrictions, saying they threaten Hong Kong’s standing as a global financial centre.

The rules have fuelled an exodus of both ex-pats and local families that was kickstarted by Beijing’s efforts to exert control over the former British colony and limit freedoms. Some 113,000 people have left since mid-2021, according to government figures.

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