HONG KONG - Hong Kong has decided to play it safe and tighten rules for vaccinated inbound travellers from medium-risk places, following the advice of two scientific committees.
Vaccinated inbound travellers who enter Hong Kong from medium-risk countries like Singapore, Japan and Korea, will have to undergo a minimum 14-day mandatory quarantine in a designated hotel.
The new measures will kick in from Friday (Aug 20), the government said in a press release issued on Tuesday.
The decision comes a week after quarantine periods were cut to seven days for vaccinated visitors who have a positive antibody test.
The U-turn comes as the two scientific committees - on vaccine preventable diseases and emerging and zoonotic diseases - wanted the government to reverse a decision made earlier to use the antibody test as a tool to reduce quarantine.
This decision was based on their advice in June.
The latest tightening follows the committees' meeting on Monday (Aug 16).
The committees' experts believe quarantine periods for travellers from some places should double following the case of a vaccinated foreign domestic helper.
The 38-year-old was confirmed with the Delta variant after finishing the compulsory seven-day quarantine.
But on Tuesday, medical experts concluded that she might have contracted the virus from a couple staying in the room directly opposite hers while they were at the Wan Chai Dorsett Hotel for their quarantine.
Between April and Aug 15, government adviser David Hui on Monday noted that there were 52 cases of vaccinated people confirmed with Covid-19.
Of these, 88 per cent carried mutant strains, mainly L452R.
Hence, he said, if people quarantine for only seven days, there is a 12 per cent chance of these cases slipping into the community.
Defending the tightening on Tuesday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said: "I have to apologise to those people who have been inconvenienced or who have had their plans disrupted as a result of this change in the use of the antibody test."
"But I hope they will understand everything we are doing is to protect Hong Kong from another major outbreak that we have seen and we have suffered," she added, ahead of the weekly Executive Council meeting.
Mrs Lam said the government is not rigid but that it has to "make adjustments constantly to respond to different aspirations".
Currently, residents and visitors who are vaccinated and coming from medium-risk places, which include Singapore, Japan and South Korea, have to undergo a 14-day quarantine, besides showing a negative test result before their flight.
Residents who are not inoculated have to go through 21 days of quarantine.
Those who are fully vaccinated and have a positive antibody test conducted by a laboratory recognised by the Hong Kong government are subject to a quarantine lasting seven days. They have to spend another seven days to self-monitor.
Mandatory quarantine for fully vaccinated visitors from low-risk places is seven days. It is 14 days for those who are not inoculated.
Only Hong Kong residents who are fully vaccinated can enter the city if they are coming from high-risk places such as the United States, India and Brazil. Besides having to present a negative test result for Covid-19 before boarding their flight, they also have to be in quarantine for 21 days and self-monitor for another seven.
As at Monday night, the vaccination rate for those who have received their first dose stands at about 55 per cent of the eligible population, still below the 70 per cent target of the government.
Experts who met on Monday night said this goal has to be raised to 80 per cent or 90 per cent due to the more infectious Delta variant.
In the past 28 days, there have been two local infections detected.
Hong Kong on Tuesday added three new confirmed cases, of which one is local, involving a 47-year-old unvaccinated Cathay Pacific lounge staff who triggered a series of testing orders issued by the government.
So far, Hong Kong has recorded more than 12,000 confirmed cases and 212 deaths - one of the lowest in the world.