Hong Kong to let travellers with Covid-19 remain at designated quarantine hotels

Messages posted in windows by quarantined guests at a hotel in Hong Kong on Sept 26, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG - Hong Kong will allow incoming travellers who test positive for Covid-19 to remain in their designated quarantine hotels instead of being transferred to isolation hotels or community facilities like the infamous Penny's Bay.

The move, which will begin on Nov 1, comes as Hong Kong prepares for a series of high-profile events including a summit for global bankers and an international rugby tournament that could help revive its reputation after more than two years of isolation.

Some potential visitors have said they won’t attend if there is a chance they could get sent to quarantine facilities.  

Between 100 and 300 travellers to Hong Kong test positive for Covid-19 every day, despite a policy that requires them to have a negative result before coming.

While many are transferred to a basic quarantine hotel for another week, others are sent to the makeshift government-run camp known as Penny’s Bay to isolate.

The risk has made people dread arriving in one of the world’s richest cities, even after it cut hotel quarantine times from seven days to three.  

The change won’t cut the amount of time infected travelers need to isolate before being let out into the community – only allow them to avoid spending time in uncomfortable, government-run facilities.

Those who test positive can be released from their quarantine hotels only if they submit a negative test on both the sixth and seventh days of isolation, said a spokesperson for the Health Bureau on Wednesday.  

“The arrangement will save confirmed cases from traveling and enable better utilisation of manpower and vehicles originally deployed for transporting confirmed cases, while reducing the transmission risk during the transportation process,” the government statement said.  

Travellers who choose to remain in their quarantine hotels rather than switch to government isolation facilities must pay for the full stay on their own.  

It’s the latest in a series of measures to ease travel rules that have been implemented by Chief Executive John Lee since he was sworn into office on July 1.

The city removed flight suspensions that imposed snap bans on routes that brought in too many people with Covid-19, cut the length of hotel quarantine and ended temperature screening for transit passengers that could have led some to government-managed virus facilities.  

The city hasn’t decided whether to further cut hotel quarantine times, and will make the call based on the Covid-19 situation closer to the high-stake events, Mr Lee said this week.

Residents who become infected have been allowed to remain at home since an outbreak slammed the city this spring, provided they had room to isolate.  

While new arrivals have stricter isolation rules than those infected locally, they account for a fraction of the city’s total daily case load as omicron subvariants drive another outbreak.

Hong Kong reported more than 7,000 local infections on Tuesday, compared with just 151 coming from abroad.  

While 62 hotels currently offer quarantine services, it’s unclear how they will respond to the new plan.

It requires them to adjust to having infected guests in their facilities for extended periods. They must arrange specific floors or rooms for isolation purposes, add air purifiers and ensure their workers are properly garbed, the government said in a statement.  

It’s also uncertain how hotels will accommodate the last-minute logistical manoeuvring required for guests who need to extend their stays from three to at least seven days if they’re found infected upon arrival.  

Nevertheless, hotels, especially smaller ones, will still find that income from the quarantine business outweighs demand from local customers and welcome changes that allow more people to visit the city, said Ms Winnie Chan, association manager at the Federation of Hong Kong Hotel Owners. BLOOMBERG

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