Hong Kong will cut its hotel quarantine for international arrivals from one week to three days from Friday, leader John Lee announced, in an easing of COVID-19 restrictions that have severely curbed travel.
Once a global logistics and transportation hub, Hong Kong has been largely cut off from the world for more than two years due to its adherence to China's strict zero-COVID-19 policy.
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Under some of the world's tightest pandemic rules, Hong Kong had required overseas arrivals to undergo seven days of quarantine and repeated testing while confined to a room in a designated hotel, a restriction that residents and the business community complained has deterred them from travelling.
Lee, Hong Kong's ex-security chief turned city leader, announced Monday that the quarantine period for arrivals would be shortened to three days in a hotel plus four days of health monitoring at home or in a hotel of their choice.
“We hope to maintain livelihood activities and Hong Kong's competitiveness, and to give the society the best development momentum and economic vitality,” Lee said.
He denied the easing signaled any departure from China's policy.
“Staying in touch with the outside world and working to resume quarantine-free travel with the mainland are no contradiction,” he said.
Alongside the new quarantine arrangements, Hong Kong will implement a health code system similar to mainland China's on a government-developed tracking app.
Under the system, an infected person will be given a red code that prevents them from leaving quarantine.
Overseas arrivals will be given a yellow code and will not be allowed in places such as restaurants, bars, gyms and cinemas during their four days of self-monitoring.
“The situation may give business visitors some relief, but it is still not very attractive to tourists,” said Perry Yiu, a lawmaker responsible for Hong Kong's tourism sector.
“I hope... we can get rid of mandatory hotel quarantine by the fourth quarter this year.”
But a Hong Kong IT professional working in Singapore expressed caution about returning home.
“I will adopt a wait-and-see model to see if the policy is stable,” said the man, who identified himself as Tom.
“From the standpoint of a tourist, I will definitely not go.”