Hong Kong ends hotel quarantine for arrivals

hHong Kong officials on Friday announced the end of hotel quarantines for arriving travelers as the government seeks to repair its battered image as a global financial center.

From September 26, visitors and returning residents do not have to undergo isolation in a designated hotel. They will be allowed to visit offices and use public transport, but will not be allowed to visit restaurants and bars during the first three days in the city.

Rapid antigen tests (RATs) will be required every day for a week, with results uploaded to a government website. Travelers will also be required to take PCR tests on arrival and at licensed testing centers on the second, fourth and sixth days after their arrival.

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“We need to give the greatest economic momentum to our society while balancing the risks,” the Chinese territory’s top official, Chief Executive John Lee, said at a news conference announcing the changes.

The city is one of the last places in the world where quarantine is still required for arriving passengers, and the government is facing intense pressure to reopen from the business sector.

Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee, left, and other officials arrive at a news conference to announce the end of hotel quarantine in Hong Kong, China, Friday, Sept. 23, 2022. (Chan Long Hei/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee, left, and other officials arrive at a news conference to announce the end of hotel quarantines in Hong Kong, China, Friday, Sept. 23, 2022.

Chan Long Hei/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The move comes ahead of a financial conference in early November hosted by Hong Kong’s central bank that it hopes will signal the city’s revival. Some Wall Street bigwigs had indicated that their presence would be contingent on the lifting of hotel quarantine in Hong Kong. (Several major 2023 events have already been postponed or canceled, including the RISE conference, billed as “Asia’s largest tech gathering.”)

During the pandemic, travelers were required to undergo self-funded hotel quarantine for up to 21 days. Last month, the period was reduced to three days in a hotel, followed by four days of home medical observation.

Read more: Tourist destinations in Asia are struggling to come back to life

The end of the hotel’s quarantine is expected to be met with widespread local relief. The Hong Kong economy went into recession in the second quarter, and pandemic restrictions have dented profits at some of the city’s biggest employers.

An employee in PPE places trays of food at the entrance of quarantined hotel rooms in Hong Kong on September 27, 2021. (Olivier CHOUCHANA/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

An employee in PPE places trays of food at the entrance of quarantined hotel rooms in Hong Kong on September 27, 2021.

Olivier CHOUCHANA/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

The severe COVID regime and the exodus of talent means that the city was also driven out as Asia’s top financial center from Singapore, according to a new report compiled by London-based think tank Z/Yen and the China Development Institute.

Major city carrier Cathy Pacific’s website saw a spike in traffic thanks to the news on Friday afternoon. At 16:30 local time there was a five minute wait to access the website. But the latest changes may not be enough to lure back business travelers or tourists — especially as other destinations in the region, such as Singapore and Thailand, have lifted COVID-19 restrictions entirely.

Visitors have traditionally thought of Hong Kong as a quick city break. In 2019, the average length of stay was just 3.3 nights. It’s unclear how many will return if they can’t enjoy the city’s legendary restaurants and nightlife for most of their trip while facing a series of tough tests.

Read more: What to do if you test positive for COVID-19 while traveling

In contrast, Singapore reopened of fully vaccinated travelers in March and is preparing to welcome hundreds of thousands of people into Formula 1 Grand Prix on October 2, with very few restrictions.

Other measures to control the pandemic appear likely to remain in place, including mandatory wearing of a mask almost everywhere, even outdoors, and a government tracking app required to enter almost any location. Rapid tests are currently required of anyone who wants to enter a bar or nightclub.

The city’s health chief, Lo Chung-mau, said on Friday that if a traveler tests positive, they will be isolated at home, in hotels or in public places, without specifying whether travelers will have a choice of where to be isolated.

Speaking earlier on the radio, Dr Ho Pak-leung, a clinical associate professor at the University of Hong Kong’s department of microbiology, said the city should lift all restrictions on quarantine and surveillance of arrivals.

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Write to Amy Gunia c [email protected].

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