The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region on Sept 23 announced an array of facilitation measures, including lifting its COVID-19 hotel quarantine policy for all arrivals from Sept 26 and replacing the nucleic acid test requirement for travelers boarding planes leaving for Hong Kong with rapid antigen tests, in a bid to revive the economy and better connect to the world.
Starting on Monday, overseas and Taiwan visitors will only undergo a three-day medical surveillance at home or at the hotel upon their arrival in Hong Kong, the city's Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu announced when meeting the media on Sept 23.
They will be allowed to go to work or school but will not be allowed to enter bars or restaurants for the period, until they get a negative nucleic acid test result on the last day of the medical surveillance.
The required pre-flight nucleic acid testing for inbound visitors will also be replaced by rapid antigen tests, Lee said.
In addition, unvaccinated overseas Hong Kong residents will be allowed to take flights to Hong Kong, while the Come2hk and Return2hk programs will be expanded to the entire Chinese mainland and Macao Special Administrative Region with no quotas.
Lee said he hopes the relaxation of the quarantine requirement will increase Hong Kong's exchanges with the international community, provide an impetus to the local economy and enhance the city's competitiveness.
Under the new arrangement, after completing the three-day medical surveillance, visitors will conduct self-monitoring from the fourth to seventh days, and nucleic acid tests will be performed on the day of their arrival and the second, fourth and sixth days.
Welcoming the initiatives, lawmaker Tan Yueheng, who is also the chairman and executive director of BOCOM International Holdings, said the moves will reduce inconveniences for inbound passengers and help revive the local economy.
But he stressed the need to closely monitor the health condition of high-risk groups, such as the elderly and the very young and increase channels to facilitate their vaccination.
Chow Pak-chin, a renowned ophthalmologist and president of think tank Wisdom Hong Kong, cautioned that lifting the vaccination requirement for overseas Hong Kong residents returning to the city is likely to increase transmission risk.
Replacing the nucleic acid test with rapid antigen tests will also mitigate pandemic prevention to a certain extent, Chow said.
All overseas and Taiwan arrivals currently spend three days in a self-paid hotel followed by four days of self-monitoring at home where they are allowed to move around the city. Hotel quarantine was as much as three weeks before being gradually eased earlier this year.