Hong Kong’s leader announced Friday that the city would no longer require incoming travelers to quarantine in designated hotels as it seeks to remain competitive and open up globally after nearly two years of strict COVID rules.
Incoming travelers 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, told reporters Friday. Instead, they will need to present a negative COVID-19 result from a rapid antigen test conducted within 24 hours before the flight.
The new rules go into effect Monday.
“While we can’t 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 travelers,” Lee said, adding that authorities would not roll back the measures announced Friday.
He said that there must be a “balance between risks and economic growth.”
From Monday, travelers into Hong Kong will have to undergo three days of home monitoring. If they test negative for the coronavirus after three days, they will be allowed into venues such as restaurants and bars. They must also undergo mandatory coronavirus tests on their fourth, sixth and seventh days in Hong Kong.
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 enforced 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.
Neighboring 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 travelers to quarantine on arrival.
Hong Kong has for most of the pandemic aligned with China’s “zero-COVID” strategy.
Over the last 2½ years, Hong Kong authorities have imposed strict social-distancing measures and locked down residential buildings with confirmed coronavirus infections to mass-test residents.
As the rest of the world reopened borders, businesses urged Hong Kong authorities to come up with an exit strategy from its strict rules in order to remain competitive amid a brain drain as tens of thousands of residents left the city.
Several companies also moved their offices to countries like Singapore as they sought relief from the city’s restrictions.
Singapore had eased travel curbs and relaxed coronavirus restrictions months before Hong Kong, sparking concerns that Hong Kong might lose out in competitiveness as an international financial center and regional business hub.
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Lee said authorities would keep monitoring the epidemic situation in Hong Kong to determine if further relaxation was possible.
“If there are positive developments as we progress … there will be more room for us to do extra measures so that we can have more movement, more activities and more room for us to go about different [activities],” he said.