Hong Kong tightens provisional vaccine pass rules for travellers

Starting Saturday, all inbound travellers age 12 and up have to be fully vaccinated in order to obtain the pass. PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG - Hong Kong's government has tightened the issuance of provisional vaccine passes to incoming travellers, closing a loophole that allowed unvaccinated visitors from mainland China to gain access to restricted venues such as restaurants and bars.

Starting Saturday, all inbound travellers aged 12 and above have to be fully vaccinated in order to obtain the pass, according to a government statement late on Friday.

Only people with medical exemptions and younger children are spared the requirement.

Hong Kong maintains some of the world's strictest pandemic curbs, including mandatory hotel quarantine for travellers arriving from most places. Under pressure to reopen its borders, the government has been trying to boost vaccine uptake, moving to gradually require most local residents to take three jabs in order to dine out and go to places like beauty parlours and nightclubs.

The organiser of the city's popular Standard Chartered Marathon on Friday cancelled the event scheduled for Nov 20, citing the latest pandemic situation in Hong Kong and the fact that the government has yet to grant approval for the race.

Oxfam Trailwalker, the city's largest charity walk, will turn into a virtual event between Nov 28 and Dec 18, after the authorities voiced additional concerns about the plan for a live race with reduced headcount, the organiser announced on Friday.

The International Dragon Boat Federation has decided to move the 2023 world championship from the Chinese city to Thailand, the Hong Kong China Dragon Boat Association announced on its website and Facebook page.

Hong Kong introduced the provisional pass in May, giving returning residents and visitors 180 days of temporary access to venues with vaccine restrictions, during which they can also get additional jabs in the city.

There has been an uproar after it transpired that visitors from the mainland were able to gain entry to the city without being vaccinated, a rule that has been in place since the beginning of the pandemic.

Adults arriving from other places, whether returning Hong Kong residents or visitors, have to be fully vaccinated, or Covid-19 recoverees who have received at least one dose.

Even children between 12 and 17 have to have received at least one BioNTech jab.

The definition of "fully vaccinated" depends on the types of inoculation, available dosage from the originating places, ages and infection status of travellers.

The provisional vaccine pass rules are separate from entry requirements. The government has no plan to require travellers from the mainland to be vaccinated to enter the city, citing the absence of a national inoculation requirement for domestic travel and the need to avoid disruption to personnel flows, it said in the Friday statement.

Separately, Hong Kong health chief Lo Chung Mau said the government is reviewing data to see whether it is possible to further ease travel curbs.

He has taken a positive stance on shortening the mandatory three-day hotel quarantine and four-day medical surveillance period for incoming travellers.

"I believe we will have data to back it up in the short order," he said in response to a reporter's questions after a radio show on Saturday, according to an official transcript posted on the government's website. BLOOMBERG

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