HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong will reduce its mandatory hotel quarantine for overseas arrivals to three days a week, the city’s leader said Monday.
The southern Chinese city remains one of the few places in the world, along with mainland China, to require quarantine to guard against travelers spreading COVID-19 to the local population. The policy that takes effect on Friday will be Hong Kong’s shortest quarantine on arrivals since the start of the pandemic.
Hong Kong leader John Lee said arriving travelers must be quarantined for three days at a designated hotel and then undergo four days of medical monitoring during which their movements will be restricted through the use of a health code system .
Lee said the new policy of only three days of quarantine was made after analyzing scientific evidence and data to control risk factors.
“We also need to balance the risks with the economic activities and social lives (of the people) of Hong Kong,” Lee said.
“(The data) gives us an indication that the risk factor of people who have completed the three-day quarantine in a designated hotel … is actually no more than the level of risk of transmission in the community,” he said.
The changes to the COVID-19 policies come despite a spike in daily infections, which city health officials warn could double to 8,000 in the coming weeks.
During the week of quarantine and surveillance, travelers should also be regularly tested for COVID-19 and those infected must remain in isolation.
Those who are negative can use public transport and enter malls and markets, but cannot enter bars and amusement parks or visit nursing homes, schools and some medical facilities.
For most of the pandemic, Hong Kong has imposed some of the strictest entry restrictions in the world for COVID-19. At one point, Hong Kong required up to 21 days of mandatory hotel quarantine for travelers and a “circuit breaker” mechanism that would ban certain airlines from flying to the city if they import too many COVID-19 cases.
These measures have devastated the city’s tourism industry and disrupted business travel in a city known as an international financial center and business hub.
Since the pandemic began, hundreds of thousands of residents have left Hong Kong. Many companies have also relocated to countries such as Singapore where quarantine-free travel has resumed.