Hong Kong is running out of Covid-19 quarantine hotel rooms to cope with inbound travellers in summer. A lawmaker urged authorities to regulate agencies occupying hotel capacity, deploy government isolation facilities and consider scrapping hotel quarantine for returning Hongkongers.

A designated quarantine hotel in Hong Kong. Photo: GovHK.

Under Hong Kong’s current Covid-19 rules, all incoming travellers are required to undergo seven days of isolation at a designated hotel upon arrival, making travel restrictions in the city among the tightest in the world. To board their flight, they must show proof of a reservation at a quarantine hotel.

Potential travellers can check availability at hotels through a government website, although data is not provided in real time.

Lawmaker Doreen Kong told HKFP that when she checked the website a week ago, she had been relieved to see that there were rooms “available” in most hotels. She was planning a trip home for her son, who was studying overseas.

However, when she sat down on Saturday afternoon to call the hotels and make a booking, she found that there were no rooms left for July or August, even in the more expensive options such as The Langham or the Mandarin Oriental.

Hong Kong airport during Covid-19 restrictions in May, 2022. File photo: Tania Chan/HKFP.

“The [government’s] website is not up to date, it is misleading,” Kong said. After sharing her frustration on her Facebook page, the legislator said many others came forward and said they were unable to return home because they could not secure a booking at a quarantine hotel.

“The Government does not warrant or represent that the information provided on this website is complete and accurate or is up to date,” reads a disclaimer on the website.

23,000 rooms gone in hours

The Food and Health Bureau announced the latest batch of designated quarantine hotels for August to October at 9:30 p.m. last Thursday.

A total of about 23,000 rooms were made available at 62 hotels, the bureau’s statement read – almost double the 12,500 rooms offered between March and July.

P, who works in education and is in her 30s, told HKFP she was aware of the new batch of quarantine hotels at 11 p.m. that day and immediately went online to check the booking status of several. P was hoping to travel over the summer.

All the hotels she checked were already sold out or listed as unavailable.

P said she thought the websites had not been updated, so she waited until 9:00 a.m. the next morning and spent her entire day calling all 62 hotels on the list. The only spaces remaining were family rooms or suites that would have cost her around HK$80,000 a week.

“You can imagine I was… panicking,” P said. If she were not able to secure a room in a quarantine hotel she would not be able to book her flight back to the city.

Scalping

Both Kong and P told HKFP they were aware of agencies offering quarantine hotel booking services with a premium.

“Isn’t quarantine a government policy?” Kong said, “How can we allow people to make extra cash with government policies?”

Kong said that because booking quarantine hotels does not require real-name registration, agencies can change the name of a booking after making a deal with travellers.

Kong added that she was “completely unable to understand the logic” behind Hong Kong’s quarantine policies.

“Why is an infected patient in Hong Kong allowed to quarantine at home while healthy people returning from overseas have to isolate [in a hotel] ?” Kong asked. Inbound travellers are required to produce a negative nucleic acid test result before boarding a flight to the city and undergo multiple tests upon arrival and while in isolation.

The lawmaker suggested the government open up the eight makeshift isolation facilities built with the help of mainland China for inbound travellers, “if they insist [on quarantine].”

Speaking on Metro Radio on Monday, outgoing Chief Executive Carrie Lam also said the city’s Covid travel rules should be relaxed in the future.

“If the city is still sticking to the existing border control measures in the coming half-year, or by the end of this year, I will be a bit worried,” Lam says

HKFP has reached out to the Food and Health Bureau for comment.

On Monday, Hong Kong reported 1,327 new Covid-19 infections and one related death. As of Sunday, the city has recorded 1,226,684 cases and 9,395 related deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

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Peter Lee

Peter Lee is a reporter for HKFP. He was previously a freelance journalist at Initium, covering political and court news. He holds a Global Communication bachelor degree from CUHK.