HK may end hotel quarantine and pre-arrival tests

Hong Kong may slash its rules on handling travelers from abroad, ending the pre-flight lab testing and hotel quarantine requirements that made coming to the once dynamic Asian financial hub fraught, according to local media reports.

An announcement spelling the end to hotel quarantines, which was cut to three days from seven just weeks ago, could come as soon as this week.

New arrivals may be asked to do rapid antigen tests rather than bring a copy of a negative PCR lab result conducted within the previous 48 hours, removing another hurdle that made travel inconvenient, according to sources.

The implementation date for removing the hotel quarantine will affect existing operations for the airline and hotel industries and hasn’t yet been decided. Travelers will instead be required to undergo self-monitoring for seven days, as the sources said.

The changes may come before a raft of major international events designed to trumpet Hong Kong’s revival are scheduled to take place starting in late October. Removal of the travel curbs that isolated the city for the past two-and-a-half years, and kept Covid-19 largely at bay until a sweeping outbreak this spring, were considered a prerequisite for many of the visitors Hong Kong was hoping to welcome.

The city, along with mainland China, has some of the strictest Covid measures in the world even as most countries drop restrictions and open borders. With new arrivals now forced to spend three days in a designated hotel followed by four days of restrictions that forbid even eating in restaurants, questions have been raised about whether visitors will come to the planned financial and banking summits and the iconic Rugby Sevens tournament later this year.

Chief Executive John Lee has taken a number of steps to ease the city’s isolation since being sworn into office on July 1.

Last month he reduced the hotel quarantine minimum stay to three days from seven as he faces pressure to get rid of the rules completely as rival hubs such as Singapore, New York and London have fully reopened.

Top epidemiologists in Hong Kong have called on them to be dismantled as has Peter Woo, one of the city’s wealthiest property magnates.

The city last week said incoming travelers who test positive for Covid-19 can remain in their quarantine hotels instead of being transferred to isolation hotels or community facilities like the infamous Penny’s Bay from November.

Some potential visitors to Hong Kong’s high-profile events had said they wouldn’t attend if there was a risk they could get sent to quarantine facilities.

Aside from the reported changes to border rules, travelers will still be required to undergo a series of laboratory and rapid tests for Covid after they arrive. They aren’t allowed to go to venues including restaurants, bars and other indoor entertainment facilities for their first week in the city, though the government won’t rule out re-examining the restrictions.