Hong Kong to keep COVID-19 rules, but will host more events, city’s leader Lee says

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Hong Kong won’t scrap its policy of placing limited restrictions on new arrivals but will implement special rules to host big international events, the city’s leader said, dashing hopes for an immediate easing of COVID-19 curbs.

More activities with an economic and international element could be held under “specific plans,” Chief Executive John Lee said at a regular news briefing Tuesday, praising last week’s banking summit and Rugby Sevens tournament. Both were heralded as successes that showcased Hong Kong’s return to the international stage.

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Under current rules, international arrivals are subject to three days of self-monitoring and testing, during which they must submit to PCR tests and are barred from bars, restaurants and many public spaces. While the requirement puts an imminent influx of foreign guests out of reach, Lee touted the benefits of ending the previously required hotel quarantine in a policy now known as 0+3.

“Zero plus three has served its purpose in Hong Kong to the acceptable and anticipated extent, allowing a lot of activities to happen,” Lee said. “More and more people are coming to Hong Kong from overseas besides residents. So, the activities are all coming back.”

Those rules were tested during last week’s major financial summit, during which some 200 bankers and top executives were exempt from many social distancing measures, including being allowed to dine in at some restaurants during the so-called three-day amber period.

Days later, the city hosted the Rugby Sevens tournament for the first time since 2019, during which large crowds were pictured not wearing masks – a reprieve allowed for those eating or drinking in the stadium.

While the three days of monitoring isn’t going away, the government has implemented some targeted easing since the banking summit. Inbound tour groups are allowed to dine in partitioned areas in designated restaurants during their monitoring periods and enter specific attractions such as theme parks, museums and temples, officials announced on Monday. They are also exploring the possibility of reducing COVID-19 tests for visitors.

Lee dashed any hopes that such scenes heralded a shift in Hong Kong’s mandatory mask rule, which imposes fines as large as HK$10,000 ($1,274) for those caught without face coverings, even outside.

“Masks will stay on because I think all experts have indicated masks are important to control the spread of the disease,” he said. “We also know that with winter coming, the attack of the flu will add to the risk of COVID-19.”

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