COVID-19: Hong Kong ends hotel quarantine

HOng Kong officials announced an end to hotel quarantines for inbound travelers on Friday as the government seeks to repair its battered image as a global financial hub.

Starting September 26, visitors and returning residents do not have to self-isolate at a designated hotel. They will be allowed to go to offices and use public transport, but they will not be allowed to visit restaurants and bars during their first three days in the city.

Rapid antigen tests (RATs) will be required daily for a week, with results uploaded to a government website. Travelers will also be required to take PCR tests upon arrival and at approved testing facilities on the second, fourth and sixth days after arrival.

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“We need to give the greatest economic boost to our society while balancing the risks,” the Chinese territory’s top official, Chief Executive John Lee, said at a press conference announcing the changes.

The city is one of the last places in the world where quarantine for incoming travelers is still required, and the government has faced intense pressure to open up from the business sector.

Departed Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee and other officials arrive at a press conference to announce the end of hotel quarantine in Hong Kong, China, Friday, September 23, 2022.

Chan Long Hei/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The move comes ahead of a financial conference in early November, hosted by Hong Kong’s central bank, which it hopes will mark the city’s revival. Some Wall Street bigwigs had indicated that their presence would be quota on Hong Kong ending hotel quarantine. (Several major events for 2023 have already been postponed or canceled, including the RISE conference, billed as “Asia’s biggest tech gathering.”)

Travelers had to submit to a self-funded hotel quarantine for 21 days at times during the pandemic. Last month, the period was reduced to three days in a hotel followed by four days of medical supervision at home.

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The end of the hotel quarantine should be greeted with widespread local relief. Hong Kong’s economy went into recession in the second quarter, and pandemic restrictions have rattled the profits of some of the city’s largest employers.

An employee in PPE places meal trays at the entrance to rooms at a quarantine hotel in Hong Kong on Sept. 27, 2021 (Olivier CHOUCHANA/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

An employee in PPE places meal trays at the entrance to rooms at a quarantined hotel in Hong Kong on September 27, 2021

Olivier CHOUCHANA/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

The tough COVID regime and an exodus of talent mean the city has also been squeezed out because Asia’s leading financial center by Singapore, according to a new report compiled by London-based think tank Z/Yen and the China Development Institute.

The website of the city’s flagship carrier, Cathy Pacific, saw an increase in traffic following the Friday afternoon news. At 4:30 p.m. local time, there was a five-minute wait to access the website. But the latest changes may not be enough to attract business travelers or tourists, especially when other destinations in the region, such as Singapore and Thailand, have removed COVID-19 restrictions altogether.

Visitors have traditionally viewed Hong Kong as a short city break. In 2019, the average length of stay was only 3.3 nights. It’s unclear how many will return if they can’t enjoy the city’s legendary restaurants and nightlife for most of their trip, while facing a battery of onerous tests.

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In contrast, Singapore reopened to fully vaccinated travelers in March and is preparing to welcome hundreds of thousands of people to the Formula 1 Grand Prix on October 2, with very few restrictions.

It looks like other pandemic control measures will remain in place, including the mandatory wearing of a mask almost everywhere, even outdoors, and a government track and trace app that is required to enter almost all places. RATs are currently required of anyone wishing to enter a bar or nightclub.

City health chief Lo Chung-mau said Friday that if a traveler tests positive, they will either be isolated at home, in hotels or in community facilities, without specifying whether travelers will have the option to choose where they are isolated. .

Speaking on the radio earlier, Dr Ho Pak-leung, an associate clinical professor in the Department of Microbiology at the University of Hong Kong, said the city should remove all quarantine and surveillance restrictions on arrivals incoming.

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Write to Amy Gunia at [email protected]

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