By reducing the COVID-19 hotel quarantine time for all arrivals from seven to three days, Hong Kong is taking another step toward gradually relaxing the strict pandemic regulations that have kept the Asian financial capital isolated.
John Lee, the mayor of the city, announced the measures at a news conference on Monday. They will go into effect on Friday.
Arrivals will need to self monitor for a further four days, during which they will be forbidden to enter such premises as restaurants and bars.
“We need to balance between people’s livelihood and the competitiveness of Hong Kong to give the community maximum momentum and economic vitality,” Lee said.
People in quarantine will be issued a red code on a government mandated app. This will change to a yellow code once they leave quarantine, signifying they may not enter crowded premises.
Quarantine was formerly as long as three weeks. Currently, all arrivals must spend at least a week in hotel quarantine and comply with frequent testing orders, provide faecal samples for babies and fill out multiple forms.
Only a select number of hotels are available for quarantine.
Rooms are costly and are typically booked out months in advance. Payment is made up front and refunds are not permitted unless there is a change in government policy or flight cancellation.
Hong Kong’s competitiveness has been hammered by the pandemic measures, business executives have said, hoping Lee, the city’s leader since July 1, would scrap the quarantine rules.
The city’s border has been almost completely sealed since 2020, with international arrivals facing tough quarantine and testing protocols. It is one of the last places in the world still imposing quarantine for arrivals.
Lee has pledged to reconnect Hong Kong with the mainland and the rest of the world. He suspended a rule in July that banned individual flights if they brought in passengers infected with the coronavirus, saying it caused unnecessary trouble and inconvenience for residents.
More than 100 flights were banned this year, a major frustration for businesses and residents use to easy and efficient travel from the city.
Shares in flagship carrier Cathay Pacific Airways leapt as much as 3.5% after the announcement to HK$8.77, the biggest daily percentage rise since June 28.
Cathay has been battered by Hong Kong’s strict pandemic rules over the past two years that led to a 98% fall in passenger numbers.
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The tournament, which is a draw for international visitors, is meant to coincide with a major banking conference that month to be attended by top global executives and will be a sign that Hong Kong can resume business as normal.
Bankers have said that quarantine free travel is a pre-condition for the event to take place.