Hong Kong to allow quarantine-free travel for some travellers from mainland and Macau

The city will start a "Come2hk" travel programme on Sept 15. PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG - Hong Kong will resume quarantine-free travel in a limited way for people entering the city from mainland China and Macau as the pandemic stabilises.

Under the "Come2hk" quarantine-free scheme starting on Sept 15, non-Hong Kong residents who live and work in the mainland and Macau, including mainlanders and expatriates, will be able to enter Hong Kong without undergoing compulsory quarantine at designated hotels.

But this will not apply to people from places in the mainland identified by the Hong Kong government as medium or high-risk. For a start, there will be six excluded areas and details will be out later.

The scheme will allow up to 2,000 individuals daily, with 1,000 each for the Shenzhen Bay Port and the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge Hong Kong Port.

They will be subject to regular virus testing and will need to produce a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test result before arrival.

"We have been talking about this "Come2hk scheme" for a long time but were never able to launch it, as there were often problems, either because of the rebound in cases in Hong Kong, or the mainland's pandemic situation," said Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Tuesday (Sept 7) at her weekly briefing.

She also announced that the "Return2hk" scheme, which allows Hong Kong residents to return from the mainland and Macau without having to go through quarantine, will resume on Wednesday (Sept 8).

The scheme was suspended in early August after the pandemic flared up in the mainland.

Under the arrangement, individuals must not have been to any high-risk places in the 14 days prior to returning to Hong Kong and must have a negative PCR test result. This group is exempted from home quarantine but will have to be tested regularly.

"Since last November in its first launch, there are about over 200,000 Hong Kong residents who have returned to Hong Kong with not one single infection, therefore we can proceed with a peace of mind," said Mrs Lam.

She noted that it is "everyone's aspiration to resume cross-boundary activities" and that the government will continue to vigorously implement measures to prevent imported cases from spreading in the community.

Hong Kong has some of the strictest travel restrictions in the world, with mandatory hotel quarantines lasting as long as 21 days.

Between Aug 1 and Sept 5, there were 116 arrivals from high-risk zones, including Indonesia, the Philippines and the United States, who were confirmed to have Covid-19 either at the airport or during compulsory quarantine.

Of these imported cases, 68 were fully vaccinated.

A woman receives a free bag of rice after getting a shot of Covid-19 vaccine at a shopping mall in Hong Kong, China, on Sept 2. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

During the same period, there were 34,300 individuals who entered Hong Kong, with 27,800 of them fully vaccinated and the remaining 6,500 unvaccinated.

Mrs Lam said: "If you're not vaccinated, the risk of getting infected is more than three times."

Hong Kong's officials have doubled down on getting people to take at least the first dose of either the Sinovac or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

On Sunday, Secretary for the Civil Service Patrick Nip, who is in charge of rolling out the inoculation programme, said outreach vaccination services will be extended to all 18 districts to boost vaccination rates, especially for the elderly.

The push comes as the city experiences a bottleneck in vaccination, forcing the authorities to extend by a month its target of hitting the 70 per cent inoculation rate by end-August.

More than 63 per cent of the 7.5 million population have taken the first dose.

Meanwhile, the government said on Monday that Hong Kong residents who are vaccinated in India, Malaysia, Pakistan and Thailand - all listed as high-risk areas - will be able to return to the city from Wednesday (Sept 8), after it agreed to recognise vaccination records issued in the four countries.

Hong Kong has so far recorded more than 12,100 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 212 deaths.

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