Hong Kong residents returning from nine countries which have reported cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant will from Thursday have to undergo 21 days of hotel quarantine as part of the highest-risk category, the government announced amid international concern at the new variant.
The tougher rules will affect returnees from Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Israel and Italy, who previously only had a 14-day quarantine period.
Only fully-vaccinated residents of Hong Kong will be admitted from those countries. They will have to take six Covid tests during their 21 days of hotel quarantine, under the tighter regulations announced on Monday evening.
Countries worldwide are tightening travel restrictions in a bid to contain the spread of the new mutation first detected in South Africa last week. Scientists are racing to determine whether Omicron, which has many more mutations than previous strains, is more transmissible and resistant to current vaccines.
Hong Kong earlier on Monday announced even tighter quarantine arrangements for fully vaccinated residents returning from eight southern African countries, including South Africa.
“As the variant of concern Omicron has been detected in various places around the world, Hong Kong has to stay vigilant,” Monday’s announcement read.
The new arrangements for travellers from southern Africa include seven days in government quarantine facilities at Penny’s Bay with daily Covid testing, followed by 14 days of mandatory hotel quarantine. They may be extended to other countries where the Omicron virus is detected as the situation develops, health officials said.
The officials said the government remains committed to pursuing a “zero-covid” approach, similar to mainland China, to guard against the spread of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, exemptions for the elderly, children and other people who have difficulty using the government’s mandatory Covid-19 tracing app remain unclear as new rules are set to kick in on December 9.
People frequenting 18 types of public premises, including restaurants, cinemas and fitness centres, will be required to use the LeaveHomeSafe app or be barred from entry.
Authorities have yet to announce details of any exemptions to the new regulations, or whether current exemptions for people aged below 15 and over 65 will continue. Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan said on Monday authorities were still preparing details of the exemptions.
Speaking to local radio stations on Monday, Equal Opportunities Commission chief Ricky Chu said he believed the new regulations do not contravene the city’s discrimination laws, but the government should clarify the exemptions.
Chu said on Commercial Radio that concern groups for the blind and elderly have written to the commission expressing concern at the mandatory use of the tracing app. He added that the government should provide assistance to ensure the app’s QR code is accessible to the disabled.