Hong Kong scraps quarantine measures after economy takes a beating

Hong Kong will lift its strict hotel quarantine for incoming travelers, which has undermined the city’s status as a financial hub, weakened its economy and prompted an exodus of residents.

The policy, which required visitors and residents to quarantine in a hotel for three weeks at a given point in time, had been in effect for two and a half years, effectively cutting the city off from both the rest of the world and mainland China.

John Lee, the city’s chief executive, said the quarantine requirement would be lifted from Monday but travelers would be tested and monitored three days after landing.

“We must leave the widest possible space for connectivity with the world so that we can have economic dynamism and reduce inconvenience to inbound travelers,” Lee said Friday.

Hong Kong had been forced to practice a version of Beijing’s stifling zero-Covid-19 policy, despite escaping the tight lockdowns that have paralyzed Chinese megacities.

But after a devastating wave of the Omicron variant swept through the city and a change in leadership, authorities have slowly eased restrictions. Travelers are currently required to stay in a hotel for three days.

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Friday’s announcement followed intense lobbying from both the international and local business communities.

“Business is suffering tremendously from the inability to travel,” said an executive at a Hong Kong-listed developer. “The macroeconomic sentiment is very bad and needs a big revival.”

The policy change also comes ahead of a major financial forum and the return of the rugby sevens tournament in early November. City leaders hope the events will attract businesses back to Chinese territory.

Beijing appeared to offer Hong Kong authorities approval to relax border measures on Tuesday. Huang Liuquan, deputy head of the State Council’s office for Hong Kong and Macau affairs, said it would be “understandable” if officials eased restrictions.

Passengers who test positive on arrival will be required to isolate at home, in a hotel or in a community isolation facility.

But travelers are no longer required to take a PCR test 48 hours before arriving in Hong Kong and are allowed to self-monitor for three days. However, they are still banned in restaurants and bars during this time.

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They must also undergo PCR tests at Hong Kong Airport and on the second, fourth and sixth days after arrival, and daily RAT tests for a week.

Passengers who test positive on arrival will be allowed to isolate at home, in a hotel or in a community isolation facility.

Despite the change, the extra checks on arrival and three-day surveillance could still slow the return of tourists and business people.

An investment banker who temporarily left Hong Kong for Germany before returning in August said the new regime, now known as “zero plus three”, was “still not attractive to people who don’t live here”.

“[The] Problem is still China. So many businesses in Hong Kong are related to China,” he said.

This month Chinese officials agreed to allow travelers to undergo mandatory isolation in Hong Kong quarantine facilities before traveling to the mainland. However, further measures to facilitate border crossing have yet to be announced.

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Hong Kong was forced last month to cut its 2022 growth forecast to between minus 0.5 percent and 0.5 percent after gross domestic product contracted 3.9 percent and 1.4 percent in the first and second quarters, respectively.

The city has recorded a total of 1.7 million cases and 9,900 deaths since the pandemic began.

Its Covid curbs have bolstered Singapore’s position as a regional hub as major corporations and financial firms moved staff and operations from Hong Kong to the city-state.

Many Hong Kong residents were also shocked by Beijing’s enactment in 2020 of a sweeping national security law that targeted civil society. The city of 7.3 million has suffered a net loss of more than 120,000 residents this year.

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