Hong Kong drops COVID curbs for arrivals, scraps health app

Announcement comes as mainland China continues to ease strict ‘zero-COVID’ strategy.

Hong Kong has scrapped its COVID-19 app and a ban on arrivals visiting bars and restaurants within three days of arrival after nearly three years of curbs that have decimated businesses and tourism.

The announcement on Tuesday came after authorities in mainland China shut down an app for tracking domestic travel in Beijing’s latest move away from its harsh “zero-COVID” strategy.

Hong Kong residents have been required to use the “LeaveHomeSafe” to prove their vaccination status and record their entry at restaurants and venues such as gyms, clubs and salons.

Arrivals to the city have also had their movements restricted under a “0+3” arrangement that barred their entry to certain venues including restaurants and bars for the first 72 hours.

Hong Kong leader John Lee said the government had decided to drop the restrictions from Wednesday after considering the latest data and risks.

“The infection risk from imported cases is lower than the risk from local infections,” Lee said.

Hong Kong’s tough pandemic restrictions, which have lasted far longer than elsewhere, have inflicted huge damage on the economy, which is heavily dependent on travel and trade.

Hong Kong is one of the only economies in the region set to end the year in recession, along with neighbouring Chinese territory Macau and crisis-stricken Sri Lanka.

The city’s government last month downgraded its economic forecast for 2022 to a contraction of 3.2 percent.

Although Hong Kong ended two and half years of mandatory hotel quarantine for arrivals in September, visitors have yet to return to the city in large numbers.

Daily arrivals are currently hovering around 20,000 people, most of them Hong Kong residents, compared with about 350,000 in November 2019.

Despite the latest easing of restrictions, Hong Kong maintains the strictest pandemic rules outside mainland China, including mandatory face masks outside, multiple COVID tests for arrivals, and a ban on gatherings of more than 12 people.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies