Hong Kong to reduce quarantine for fully vaccinated residents

The plan would be Hong Kong's most significant move yet to ease the stringent restrictions that have threatened its status as a financial hub.
The plan would be Hong Kong's most significant move yet to ease the stringent restrictions that have threatened its status as a financial hub.PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) - Hong Kong will shorten hotel quarantine to seven days for fully vaccinated residents travelling from most places, as well as non-residents inoculated against Covid-19, in its most significant move yet to ease one of the strictest border curbs in the world.

The keenly anticipated moves are part of a broader loosening of restrictions announced by Chief Executive Carrie Lam at a briefing on Monday (June 21), which she said was a symbolic day as it marked two weeks without any new local coronavirus cases.

Other plans include lifting capacity restrictions at some restaurants and swimming pools.

The shortening of hotel quarantine will begin on June 30 and apply to Hong Kong residents, Mrs Lam said.

Non-residents could be eligible within a month of that date.

In addition to being fully vaccinated, people will need to test positive for Covid-19 antibodies and undergo two nucleic acid tests during quarantine followed by more tests 12, 16 and 19 days after arriving, according to a government statement.

At present, travellers are required to serve mandatory hotel quarantine of up to 21 days.

Mrs Lam did not specify which places would be excluded from the new plan, but the statement later outlined that only so-called Group A1 and A2 specified places would miss out.

The "extremely high-risk" category currently includes India, Nepal, Pakistan, Brazil, the Philippines and South Africa. Ireland and Indonesia are A2.

It also means the easing would apply to countries in the city's "high-risk" category, which currently lists 27 nations including the US, UK, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.

While many parts of the world have opened up again fairly quickly, Hong Kong has pursued a cautious approach after effectively wiping out Covid-19. Others in the Asia Pacific region have acted similarly, aiming for "Covid Zero" at the expense of reopening borders.

If Hong Kong's latest quarantine plan proceeds, it would be the first of these places to allow vaccinated tourists to enter.

The city "is well equipped to allow persons arriving at Hong Kong who are fully vaccinated and possess positive serology antibody test results", a government spokesman said in Monday’s statement.

"Meanwhile, as Hong Kong is an international metropolis, many of our citizens have genuine needs to travel around the world." 

Serology testing will also be a requirement for quarantine exemptions for senior executives of major listed companies.

Questions remain about the new policy. Asked if unvaccinated children would qualify for shorter quarantines, Mr Lam said the government will study how to apply rules to those who cannot access Covid-19 shots and "come up with a response". Only children aged 12 and above are eligible for vaccinations in Hong Kong.

Bloomberg reported last week that the quarantine easing plan, which had been recommended by a government advisory panel earlier this month, had been approved by the government.

The current quarantine regime has been a growing source of public anger. Travellers have to book their own hotel rooms, and they are being reserved quickly over the summer period.

In Hong Kong, fully vaccinated people are also required to serve quarantine in government facilities if they come into close contact with infected people, even if they have tested negative for the virus.

With vaccine uptake slow amid widespread distrust of the Beijing-backed government, calls have grown for the strict rules to be relaxed for inoculated people in order to boost rates.

The city’s vaccination rate remains low, which is "not ideal", Mrs Lam said. Despite wide availability of vaccines, only 17 per cent of people in Hong Kong have been fully vaccinated, according to Bloomberg's vaccine tracker. That compares with 34.9 per cent in Singapore and 36.1 per cent in London.