As a record number of diseases stress the city’s infrastructure, Hong Kong will lower its quarantine requirement for inbound travellers by a week while also extending a ban on people entering from eight countries.

The reduced quarantine period will begin on Feb. 5 and would require travellers to remain in a hotel for 14 days before undergoing seven days of self-monitoring, according to Chief Executive Carrie Lam. During the final week, people will be free to go outside, but there will be two days when mandatory testing will be required.

The suspension on flights from the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and the Philippines will continue at least until February 18 due to “raging Covid” cases in those countries, said Lam. All in-person school sessions will be suspended until February 21, and social distancing measures, such as a restriction on dining-in after 6 p.m. and the closing of gyms and clubs, will be prolonged for another two weeks until February 17.

Lam commented, “We are of course facing a serious challenge, but I hope the public will have confidence in us that the actions we’re taking are effective.”

The decisions come as the city battles to contain an escalating outbreak that is crowding hospital beds and putting thousands of people in quarantine or lockdown. Despite the omicron variant’s contagious but mild characteristics, authorities are forging ahead with Covid-Zero plans.  Even with the reduction shortening, Hong Kong’s travel quarantine remains one of the world’s longest, as worldwide counterparts such as Singapore and London move toward coexistence with the virus.

The tight requirements have enraged the business community, which fears that Hong Kong’s standing as a global financial centre could be jeopardised. Its zero-tolerance approach towards Covid-19 might cut the city off from the rest of the world until 2024, causing a large-scale migration of international employees and executives, according to a draft report by the European Chamber of Commerce.

Lam admitted that reducing the travel quarantine period to 14 days would “definitely not” please the city’s business community, which prefers seven days of isolation or none at all.

She added, “Some countries in Europe are fully opening up their borders. But for Hong Kong that’s a very dangerous move. We do not possess the prerequisites for living with the virus, Because the vaccination rate is not good especially amongst the elderly. I could not stand seeing a lot of old people dying in my hospitals.”

To improve its vaccination rate, which is among the lowest among developed economies, Hong Kong will expand a vaccine bubble that will begin on February 24 to include additional establishments and will mandate shots for residents of elderly homes.

When the first-dose vaccination rate reaches 90%, the government may ease its social distance regulations, Lam said, while she stopped short of setting a formal threshold. Approximately 79 percent of the population has had their first vaccination.

– India’s new age travel digital media


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