Hong Kong has suspended its quarantine-free Return2HK scheme for residents coming back from mainland China, in an attempt to stop an outbreak of the more infectious coronavirus Delta variant from spreading to the city.

The new measures will only allow people returning from neighbouring Guangdong province and not the rest of China to be exempted from mandatory 14-day home quarantine.

Cross border student
File photo: GovHK.

Fully vaccinated people returning from the mainland will also not be eligible for shorter quarantine.

Macau, which is grappling with its first local infections in 16 months, has also been excluded from the Return2HK scheme. Authorities there are investigating whether its new cases were infected on a flight from mainland China.

China is struggling to contain the spread of the Delta variant after an outbreak centred in the city of Nanjing, reporting over 300 cases across 15 provinces and cities within two weeks.

The tightened restrictions come as a returnee to Hong Kong on Monday was identified as a close contact of an infected person in Macau.

Macau's Tap Seac Square.
Macau’s Tap Seac Square. Photo: Whhalbert via Wikipedia.

“The Hong Kong SAR Government will continue to maintain close communication and liaison with the Mainland and Macau authorities on pandemic prevention and control measures of the three places,” a government statement read.

Hong Kong on Wednesday reported two imported cases, as well as one preliminary positive community case which threatens to end its almost two-month run without local infections.

Tightened free testing criteria

The city also announced that fewer groups of workers will be eligible for free testing, an attempt to drive more people to get vaccinated.

Covid mobile testing stations on Canton Road
Covid mobile testing stations on Canton Road, Yau Ma Tei. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Personnel at quarantine hotels and transport will be eligible for free testing every three days, while catering and airport staff are eligible for free testing every week. Construction workers can get a free test every fortnight.

The free tests will only be available until the end of this month, while those who do not fall into these new categories will have to pay HK$240 per compulsory test.

The government earlier this week extended vaccination orders to more work groups, requiring civil servants, school employees, care home workers and Hospital Authority staff to be regularly tested at their own expense if they are not fully vaccinated.

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Rhoda Kwan is HKFP's Assistant Editor. She has previously written for TimeOut Hong Kong and worked at Meanjin, a literary journal. She holds a double bachelor’s degree in Law and Literature from the University of Hong Kong.