Hong Kong will scrap quarantine exemptions for top business executives, diplomats and most other groups currently excused from the tough restrictions as it tries to persuade mainland China to reopen the border.

Nine out of 12 types of exemptions from mandatory hotel quarantine for people entering Hong Kong will be cancelled on November 12, a top government official announced on Monday, giving details of the move announced last week.

Policy Address 2021
Chief Secretary John Lee attends the delivery of the Policy Address 2021 in the Legislative Council on October 6, 2021. File Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

More premises may require the use of the government’s contact-tracing LeaveHomeSafe app, a coronavirus expert said separately, as five were arrested for allegedly using a fake version of the app as they entered a government office tower on Monday.

Hong Kong is planning even tighter measures to prevent local outbreaks of coronavirus as it seeks to satisfy requirements from mainland China’s health authorities, in hopes of establishing a quarantine-free travel bubble.

Even before the new curbs announced Monday, overseas business groups said the quarantine rules, some of the world’s toughest, were prompting members to consider quitting the city.

Chief Secretary John Lee said the government would scrap quarantine exemptions for all travellers except airline crew, truckers and the crew of cargo ships, and government officials while on duty.

Bankers, public company directors, senior executives of insurance companies, banks, financial firms, airline operators and the Hong Kong Airport Authority, academics engaged in Covid-19 research as well as diplomats below the rank of consul-general will no longer be able to escape up to three weeks in hotel quarantine.

“The measure is to answer uncertainties and additional public health risk brought upon by the Delta strain of the virus,” Lee said. “We will only retain [exemptions] for types of individuals who are essential.” Stricter measures will create conditions necessary to reopen travel with the mainland, he said.

Covid-19 designated quarantine hotel
A designated quarantine hotel in Hong Kong. Photo: GovHK.

The government previously denied that the exemptions which have now been scrapped were a public health concern. “Criticisms that the quarantine exemption arrangement has brought about loopholes… is a misunderstanding,” a government statement said in July last year.

The exemptions were “to maintain necessary operation of Hong Kong’s society and economy,” Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan told a legislator in August. The same month, Secretary for Commerce and Development Edward Yau defended the government’s decision to waive quarantine for actor Nicole Kidman and four film crew members when she travelled to the city to shoot an upcoming Amazon Prime Video drama series.

The waiver was “conducive to maintaining the necessary operation and development of Hong Kong’s economy,” the bureau said in response to the backlash at the time.

Hong Kong Book Fair 2021
Book fair goers scan a QR code for the government-developed contact-tracing app LeaveHomeSafe. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Hongkongers on Monday began having to use the government contact tracing smartphone app to access most government premises, including wet markets, pools and hospitals. Five people were arrested for allegedly using a fake version of the LeaveHomeSafe app when entering the Immigration Tower in Wan Chai, local media reported.

They included two immigration officers, an officer from the Audit Commission and two government contract workers, HK01 reported.

Third jabs

Ho Pak-leung, an infectious disease expert from the University of Hong Kong, said on Commercial Radio on Monday he expects supermarkets and shopping malls will also in future require use of the app.

Coronavirus Covid-19 BioNTech vaccine
A Hong Kong medic holds a BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine. Photo: GovHK.

Meanwhile Hong Kong will start offering a third booster jab of Covid-19 vaccine for specific groups from mid-November following advice from its panel of coronavirus experts, civil service chief Patrick Nip said on RTHK.

People above 60, medical workers or those in other high-risk professions, as well as those suffering from long term illnesses or are immuno-compromised, will have priority.

Hong Kong has seen a total of 12,348 Covid-19 cases and 213 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

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Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.