Hong Kong will shorten its quarantine requirement for inbound travelers by a week and extended a ban on people coming from eight countries as a record number of infections stresses the city’s infrastructure.
The shorter quarantine period will begin from Feb. 5, and will see travelers stay in a hotel for 14 days and then undertake seven days of self monitoring, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said at a briefing on Thursday. People will be able to go outside during that final week, but there are two days on which compulsory testing will be undertaken.
The ban on flights from locations including the U.S., U.K., Australia and the Philippines will continue until Feb. 18 due to “raging Covid” cases, Lam said. All in-person school classes will remain suspended until Feb. 21 and social distancing measures — which include a ban on dining-in at restaurants after 6 p.m. and the closure of gyms and bars — will be extended by two weeks until Feb. 17.
“We are of course facing a serious challenge, but I hope the public will have confidence in us that the actions we’re taking are effective,” Lam said.
The moves come as the city struggles to stem a worsening outbreak that’s filling hospital beds and has put thousands of people into quarantine or lockdown. Authorities are pressing on with Covid Zero ambitions and the new quarantine measures still highlight the city as an outlier, with global peers Singapore and London moving toward co-existing with the virus. The strict rules have angered the business community, who argue Hong Kong risks losing its status as a global financial hub.
Hong Kong will also widen the vaccine bubble that starts Feb. 24 to more premises, and will require shots for residents at elderly homes. The government may relax its social distancing restrictions once the first-dose vaccination rate reaches 90%, Lam said, though she stopped short of formalizing this as a threshold. About 79% of the population has had their first shot.
The city’s growing outbreak centers on two separate clusters: one omicron and one delta. Hong Kong reported a record 164 Covid cases on Thursday, including 12 local cases of unknown origin, with health authorities warning of dozens of silent transmission chains in the community.