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Hong Kong lifts international travel quarantine after more than 900 days



CNN

The Hong Kong government has announced the end of the official quarantine for international travelers after more than two and a half years of strict pandemic control.

Under the new rules, effective September 26, incoming travelers will have to undergo three days of self-monitoring upon arrival.

The Hong Kong government has faced significant pressure from the business community and some public health officials to ease restrictions amid a slowing economy, a stream of foreigners and fears that the financial hub, once known as the “World City of Asia,” is being left behind as the rest of the world moves away from the pandemic.

Baby with Covid separated from family and isolated alone in Hong Kong

Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee said in a much-anticipated news conference on Friday that the city’s infection numbers had stabilized, allowing the quarantine to be lifted.

“We hope to provide maximum headroom to reconnect Hong Kong and revive our economy,” Lee said.

Incoming travelers will be able to self-monitor for three days at home or a location of their choice. During this time, they can go out but will be limited to some places.

Arrivals will not need to provide a negative PCR test prior to boarding. However, they will need to provide a negative rapid antigen test (RAT) 24 hours prior to boarding.

During the three-day monitoring period, people will be assigned an amber color under the city’s digital health code, which will prevent them from entering places like bars or restaurants.

They will need a PCR test on days 2, 4, and 6 after arrival, and a daily RAT test for seven days after arrival.

The policy change comes after Japan announced it would reopen its borders from October 11, and after Taiwan said it aims to cancel the mandatory quarantine on October 13 if the island has passed the peak of the latest Omicron BA-5 outbreak.

Questions about when the city will ease restrictions have become clearer as two major international events, the Hong Kong Sevens rugby league and the global banking conference, are scheduled for next month. November and was seen as a way to revive the besieged city. recent years by pro-democracy Demonstration and the next one suppression of civil liberties of Beijing.

While various governments introduced border controls in the wake of the pandemic, most have since backed away from the measures, including Singapore, which often competes with Hong Kong for attract foreign business and talent.

But unlike other global hubs, Hong Kong’s Covid-19 policies have long been seen as closely tied to mainland China, where Beijing continues to maintain a zero-covid policy and quarantine at the border, showing no signs of easing as stamping out the infection remains the top priority.

Calls for easing international border controls under the leadership of Lee’s predecessor, Carrie Lam, who left office on June 30, have been stymied by the need for competition to open up. there is no inland quarantine – a proposal that has yet to be implemented.

A public signal of Beijing’s support for the new Hong Kong policy roadmap came on September 20, when Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office Deputy Chief Huang Liuquan said the Hong Kong government Kong has coordinated its policies to the local situation and the adjustments made. need not be “over-interpreted”.

While the new policy on international arrivals to Hong Kong may not be a harbinger of an impending change in mainland policy, it is indicative of different circumstances on each side of the border. gender.

Although the city has kept local cases to a minimum during the first two years of the pandemic, Hong Kong has experienced a boom of the highly infectious variant of Omicron earlier this year and has not recovered its 0-Covid stance since then. Instead, the city has continued to see hundreds to thousands of cases daily. Officials’ records show more than 1.7 million cases have been reported in the city of 7.4 million, although experts believe the real number is higher.

In mainland China, by contrast, much of the country has yet to be exposed to the virus – leaving its population in a deficit when it comes to natural immunity from infection, a concern for health officials. health authorities there, who fear a widespread strain of the virus spreading through the health care system.

Hong Kong’s new measures come more than 900 days after the city first enacted border restrictions in March 2020, and almost two years after mandating hotel quarantines for all guests international in December 2020. The longest, the quarantine period lasted up to 21 days. Travelers who tested positive during quarantine were transferred to designated facilities, sometimes including government-run camps.

The program has become increasingly controversial in the community after the Covid-19 vaccine became widely available, the number of local cases increased and places with similar systems such as New Zealand and Australia opened their doors. border.

This summer, shortages of hotel rooms and limited flights have sparked public outrage as travelers risk being stranded outside the city until free rooms become available if passengers travel. Their journey is disrupted, such as catching Covid-19 or having their flight rescheduled.

Certain restrictions have been relaxed in recent months. In May, non-Hong Kongers were allowed into the city from abroad for the first time in more than two years, while a plan to allow some flights with Covid-positive passengers was suspended. was removed in July.

Earlier this summer, Lee’s administration reduced the quarantine from one week to three days, plus four days of health monitoring, during which time arrivals are not allowed to go to places including bars, lounges, and bars. Gym and restaurant.

Even so, hotel quarantine requirements and pre-flight checks have been seen as a significant obstacle left to entering the city. There are still questions about the new plan’s role in revitalizing the city’s once vibrant tourism industry.

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