Hong Kong will shorten mandatory hotel quarantine to seven days for fully vaccinated people traveling from all but a handful of high-risk places, in a significant easing of some of the world’s strictest border curbs.
The keenly anticipated moves were announced by Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam at a briefing Monday, which she called a symbolic day as it marked two weeks without any new local coronavirus cases. Other plans include lifting capacity limits at some restaurants and swimming pools from Thursday.
The shortening of hotel quarantine will begin on June 30 and apply initially for Hong Kong residents, Lam said. Non-residents could be eligible within a month of that date. In addition to being fully vaccinated, people will need to test positive for Covid-19 antibodies and undergo two nucleic acid tests during quarantine followed by more tests 12, 16 and 19 days after arriving, according to a government statement.
Lam didn’t say which places might be excluded from the plan, but the statement later outlined that only so-called Group A1 and A2 specified places would miss out. The “extremely high-risk” category currently includes India, Nepal, Pakistan, Brazil, the Philippines and South Africa. Ireland and Indonesia are A2.
While many parts of the world have opened up again fairly quickly, Hong Kong has pursued a cautious approach after effectively wiping out Covid-19. Others in the Asia Pacific region have acted similarly, aiming for “Covid Zero” at the expense of reopening borders. If Hong Kong’s latest quarantine plan proceeds, it would be the first of these places to allow vaccinated tourists to enter.
The city “is well equipped to allow persons arriving at Hong Kong who are fully vaccinated and possess positive serology antibody test results,” a government spokesman said in Monday’s statement. “Meanwhile, as Hong Kong is an international metropolis, many of our citizens have genuine needs to travel around the world.”
Serology testing will also be a requirement for quarantine exemptions for senior executives of major listed companies.
Questions remain about the new policy. Asked if unvaccinated children would qualify for shorter quarantines, Lam said the government will study how to apply rules to those who cannot access Covid shots. Only children aged 12 and above are eligible for vaccinations in Hong Kong. We “will come up with a response,” Lam said.
Hong Kong’s strict quarantine regime has been a growing source of public anger. Travelers have to book their own hotel rooms, which can be costly for lengthy stays, and they’re being reserved quickly over the summer period.
In Hong Kong, fully vaccinated people are required to serve quarantine in government facilities if they come into close contact with infected people, even if they’ve tested negative for the virus. With vaccine uptake slow amid widespread distrust of the Beijing-backed government, calls have grown for rules to be relaxed for inoculated people.
The city’s vaccination rate remains low and is “not ideal”, Lam said. Despite wide availability of vaccines, only 17% of people in Hong Kong have been fully vaccinated, according to Bloomberg’s vaccine tracker. That compares with 34.9% in Singapore and 36.1% in London.