Hong Kong’s incoming Health Secretary has said he will consider cutting the city’s hotel quarantine for incoming travellers from seven days to five or less, raising hopes of a relaxation in one of the world’s strictest Covid quarantine policies when the new administration takes over next week.
Lo Chung-mau told a radio programme on Thursday that only around one per cent of arriving travellers were infected with Covid, allowing authorities to potentially further cut the quarantine period.
Lo said any such cut would be accompanied by other requirements, such as self-isolation at home or point-to-point travel for visitors.
Apart from the expense and inconvenience to travellers, Hong Kong also faces a shortage of quarantine hotel rooms, which are snapped up within hours every time a new batch opens for booking.
The quarantine was originally 21 days, then reduced to 14 and cut again to seven. Business groups and private travellers have fiercely criticised the policy as draconian and unnecessary.
Easing for economy?
Beijing’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong has reached out to business chambers in the city, seeking their opinions on reviving the financial hub’s economy, according to Bloomberg. It said business leaders overwhelmingly responded that the quarantine rules must be axed as soon as possible.
Bloomberg reported that the Liaison Office invited commercial chambers for meetings in early June and at times asked for advice on how the Hong Kong government can improve the local business environment.
Businesses have long appealed to the government to relax the quarantine measures, as it impedes the flow of talent in and out of Hong Kong.
Incoming Chief Executive John Lee, who takes office on July 1, has said he will undertake a “quick review” of Hong Kong’s anti-epidemic policies, including the quarantine rules.
“[W]hat are possible interim measures, interim goals before we reach the final goal? In other words, yes, the quarantine period is causing inconvenience to travellers. Is there a way of addressing that and inconvenience so that reduce it a little bit? These are options. But of course we have also to understand what are being practised in the mainland,” Lee said in a recent interview with the South China Morning Post.
Lee said he was aware of the importance of maintaining Hong Kong’s connections with the world to keep its competitive edge, saying it was “an issue close to [his] heart.” He said his administration would consider different suggestions “seriously” while balancing any changes against the possible risk.
Lee’s predecessor Carrie Lam had earlier promised a further easing of Hong Kong’s social distancing rules by the end of June, but later decided to extend them instead, saying that would leave room for the next government to make its own decisions.