Hong Kong will reduce hotel quarantine from seven days to three days as businesses and residents in the international financial hub grow increasingly frustrated with one of the world’s most draconian border regimes.
Under the eased measures, travellers will be required to quarantine for three days in a hotel instead of seven, after which they will be subject to four days of “home medical surveillance”.
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During the surveillance period, arrivals will not be allowed to enter venues such as bars and restaurants that have been required to adopt a new two-colour health code similar to that used in mainland China.
The eased measures will take effect from Friday.
Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee, who has pledged to prioritise reconnecting the city with mainland China and the world since entering office last month, said the government wished to lessen the impact of quarantine on the economy and travel.
“We need to balance between people’s livelihood and the competitiveness of Hong Kong to give the community maximum momentum and economic vitality,” Lee said at a press conference on Monday.
Long branded as “Asia’s World City”, Hong Kong has turned into one of the most isolated metropolises on earth after two and a half years of strict border controls designed to align with mainland China.
The pandemic policies, along with a sweeping crackdown on dissent that has severely curtailed rights and freedoms in the former British colony, have prompted an exodus of residents and warnings of brain drain in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.
More than 120,000 people left in 2020 and 2021, with tens of thousands more expected to follow this year.
In a survey conducted by the American Chamber of Commerce of Hong Kong last year, more than 40 percent of expatriate residents said they were planning to leave or considering it.
Despite the rest of the world transitioning to living with the virus, the Hong Kong government has not laid out any timetable for permanently exiting border controls.
Travel to the city continues to be difficult and costly even after the latest easing of restrictions, as travellers have to fight for space at a limited number of quarantine hotels and face the risk of being stranded if they test positive for COVID-19 before their flight.
Gary Ng, a senior economist at Natixis in Hong Kong, said that while positive, the relaxation of quarantine still left the city trailing the rest of the world.
“The optimistic scenario is Hong Kong’s air passengers can reach 8 percent of the pre-pandemic level in 2022, but it is not enough,” Ng told Al Jazeera.
“Hong Kong’s leadership needs to move beyond COVID for the greater good of the economy and introducing extra hurdles does not help, such as the health code.”