Breaking: Hong Kong has just announced a relaxation of their hotel quarantine duration for incoming arrivals to just three days, starting Friday the 12th.

Since the start of the COVID19 pandemic in 2020, Hong Kong has maintained one of the strictest borders in the world. The Asian financial hub has struggled to bounce back from COVID-related disruptions to travel, with most being deterred by stringent regulations. The news comes just a few weeks after China relaxed similar quarantine mandates.

Hong Kong reduces hotel quarantine for arrivals
Hong Kong reduces hotel quarantine for arrivals after two years of china-like restrictions. © f9photos/Getty Images

A step closer to normality for Hong Kong

Hong Kong chief executive, John Lee, announced Monday morning that inbound travellers would only have to endure three days of hotel quarantine from Friday the 12th of August. Subsequently, travellers would then be subject to four days of health monitoring, starting from 12pm on the third day of hotel quarantine.

The move to reduce hotel quarantine is long overdue, with fears that Hong Kong has largely cut itself off from the rest of the world as it returns to a new normal. Initially reported by the Hong Kong Free Press, former chief executive Carrie Lam defended the COVID flight ban policy that came under heavy fire by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). The Association said that Hong Kong was “effectively off the map”.

Carrie Lam, former chief executive of Hong Kong SAR
The former chief executive of Hong Kong defended the COVID flight ban resulting in the IATA labelling the Special Administrative Region of China as “off the map”. © Billy H.C. Kwok/Getty Images

People arriving in Hong Kong from overseas will be able to serve their four-day health monitoring period from either a hotel or home. The new policy allows for significant leniency, with the only major stipulation being that people monitoring for symptoms remain clear of high-risk areas such as aged-care facilities.

Furthermore, the rule allows travellers to visit high-density areas such as shopping malls and public transportation during the health monitoring period. Visiting places of work such as an office is also considered an acceptable reason to leave self-isolation, with the exception of those who work with people considered high-risk. However, inbound travellers must perform and upload a daily rapid antigen test when leaving isolation.

chief executive of Hong Kong John Lee
Recently appointed chief executive of Hong Kong, John Lee, has already made some landmark COVID19 policy overhauls. © Ammar Awad/Reuters

John Lee eased Hong Kong’s pain early in his tenure

Having only recently assumed the position of chief executive, John Lee has already made some significant changes to COVID19 travel restrictions and regulations. The earliest change introduced saw the removal of flight suspensions on July 7th. The policy would force sudden and often unjustified route suspensions should a passenger onboard an inbound flight test positive for COVID19 upon arrival.

The termination of the flight suspension policy is part of a multiple-part plan John Lee has embarked on to restore the city’s international prominence without stepping on the toes of Chinese officials attempting to eradicate the virus.

China imposes harsh lockdown rules after four positive COVID tests
Millions in China are back in lockdown following four COVID positive tests. © Reuters

Anticipation over the hotel quarantine policy changes was at a fever pitch in the preceding weeks to the announcement this morning.

“We analysed data regarding the timing of imported cases and – under the principle of preventing imported infections from spreading to the community – assessed how to effectively reduce the effect of quarantine on livelihoods, the economy and international connectivity,” said Health Secretary Lo Chung-Mau in a statement.

Travellers will still have to take a nucleic acid test on the day of their arrival, as well as on the second, fourth, sixth and ninth day. This is in addition to a daily rapid antigen test until their tenth day in the country.

Health secretary Lo says that travellers will revert to blue code status after seven days of hotel isolation and health monitoring but insists that people remain vigilant and continue to monitor for symptoms.

Streets of Hong Kong
John Lee hopes to inspire Hong Kong back to its former international status. © Peter Parks/AFP

Despite efforts to make travel to Hong Kong more inviting, it’s unlikely that the hotel quarantine relaxation will inspire a significant shift in commercial travel behaviour. Many restrictions remain in place, with stringent testing rules still unappealing to many tourists and business travellers alike. Rooms remain in short supply, and many hotels are commanding much loftier rates than usual to accommodate cleaning and staffing costs.

Colour-coded health system explained

Along with the reduction of hotel quarantine, government officials unveiled a new colour-coded system for new arrivals. The system assigns colours to travellers based on the stage of their quarantine or isolation. After the mandatory three-day hotel quarantine period is complete, inbound travellers will be assigned a yellow code. Upon completion of the health monitoring phase, travellers are given a blue code in the city’s LeaveHomeSafe app, signifying they have completed quarantine and health monitoring. Red codes are issued to those who test positive for the virus.

The Leave Home Safe App
The Leave Home Safe app allows travellers to see and show the status of their quarantine. © Chan Long Hei/Bloomberg

Despite Lee’s best intentions of returning Hong Kong to the international stage, normality still looks a long way off. According to health secretary Lo, the government is working on reinstating condition-free international travel by November 2022, in time for the global bankers’ summit taking place in the city.

Much of the city still faces harsh COVID restrictions and policies on a daily basis, with schools still operating half days and a new 3000-capacity isolation facility opening at Hong Kong’s airport. It wasn’t long ago that aviation professionals such as pilots and crew were being stranded in forced two-week isolation at pop-up isolation facilities at the airport. Dutch pilot girl, aka Michelle Gooris, documented the awful conditions and poor treatment by officials at the time visa her Instagram stories.

Are you more likely to travel to Hong Kong in light of the hotel quarantine policy change? Let us know in the comments.

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