HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong’s leader announced that the city will no longer require incoming travelers to quarantine in designated hotels as it seeks to remain competitive and open up globally after nearly two years.
Incoming travelers will no longer need a negative PCR test within 48 hours before boarding a plane to Hong Kong, the city’s chief executive officer, John Lee, said at a news conference on Friday. Instead, they will need to present a negative COVID-19 result from a rapid antigen test performed within 24 hours prior to flight.
The measures will take effect on Monday.
“While we cannot control the trend of the epidemic, we must allow maximum space to allow connectivity with the world so that we can have an economic boost. and to reduce inconvenience for arriving travelers,” said Lee, who also said authorities will not reverse the measures announced on Friday.
He said there must be a “balance between risks and economic growth.”
Starting Monday, travelers to Hong Kong will be required to undergo three days of home surveillance. If they test negative for COVID-19 after three days, they will be allowed into places like restaurants and bars. They must also undergo various mandatory coronavirus tests on their fourth, sixth and seventh days in Hong Kong.
For nearly two years, Hong Kong required foreign arrivals in the city to serve a mandatory quarantine period in designated hotels. At one point, the city had one of the longest quarantine periods in the world with 21 days of mandatory isolation.
The easing of measures comes as Hong Kong prepares to host several high-profile events, including the Rugby Sevens tournament in November and an international banking summit.
Neighboring Taiwan is expected to do the same next month. This leaves mainland China as one of the only places in the world that will still require travelers to quarantine on arrival.
Hong Kong has aligned itself for most of the pandemic with China’s “COVID zero” strategy.
Over the past two and a half years, Hong Kong authorities have imposed strict social distancing measures and closed residential buildings with confirmed COVID-19 infections to conduct mass testing of residents..
As the rest of the world reopened borders, businesses urged Hong Kong authorities to devise a pandemic exit strategy to remain competitive amid a brain drain as tens of thousands of residents fled the city..
Several companies have also relocated their offices to countries such as Singapore seeking relief from the city’s restrictions.
Singapore had eased travel restrictions and relaxed coronavirus restrictions months before Hong Kong, raising concerns that Hong Kong could lose competitiveness as an international financial hub and regional trade hub.
Lee said authorities will continue to monitor the epidemic situation in Hong Kong to determine whether further relaxation is possible, adding that he was “optimistic” that those who wish to enter Hong Kong would welcome the relaxation of requirements.
“If there are positive developments as we go … there will be more room for us to take additional steps so we can have more movement, more activities and more room to do different (activities),” he said.