HONG KONG (AFP) – Hong Kong will reduce the mandatory hotel quarantine for overseas arrivals to three days out of a week, the city’s leader said on Monday.
The city in southern China remains one of the few places in the world, along with China, to require quarantine to protect against travelers spreading COVID-19 to local residents. The policy, which will take effect on Friday, will be Hong Kong’s shortest quarantine for arrivals since the pandemic began.
Hong Kong leader John Lee said incoming travelers must quarantine for three days at a designated hotel, then undergo medical observation for four days during which their movements will be restricted through the use of a health code system.
Li said the new policy of just three days in quarantine was put in place after analyzing scientific evidence and data to control risk factors.
“We also have to balance the risks, the economic activities and the social life of (people in) Hong Kong,” Lee said.
“(The data) gives us an indication that the risk factor for people who have finished three days of quarantine in a particular hotel…is really nothing more than the level of transmission risk in the community,” he said.
Changes in COVID-19 policies come despite an increase in daily infections, which city health officials have warned could double to 8,000 in the coming weeks.
During the week of quarantine and monitoring, travelers will also have to be tested for COVID-19 regularly and those infected will have to remain in isolation.
Those who test positive can use public transportation and enter malls and markets, but they cannot enter bars and amusement parks or visit nursing homes, schools and some medical facilities.
For most of the pandemic, Hong Kong has imposed some of the world’s most stringent COVID-19 entry restrictions. At one point, Hong Kong required up to 21 days of mandatory hotel quarantine for travelers and a “circuit breaker” mechanism that would ban flights from some airlines to the city if they imported too many COVID-19 cases.
These measures have devastated the city’s tourism industry and disrupted business travel in a city known as an international financial and business hub.
Since the epidemic began, hundreds of thousands of residents have left Hong Kong. Many companies have also relocated to countries such as Singapore where travel without quarantine has resumed.