Hong Kong will not axe Covid-19 hotel quarantine for inbound travellers in the short-term, the city’s new health chief has told Oriental Daily, despite halting the flight ban mechanism on Thursday.

Isolation hotel
The Secretary for Security Chris Tang inspects a designated quarantine hotel. File photo: GovHK.

Hong Kong’s Secretary for Health Lo Chung-mau said halting quarantine was “an unreasonable expectation” for the time being: “Some people hope for quarantine-free travel, which is to open-up completely. I am sorry, I believe not a single government would make such a promise [to reopen] at the moment, or set such a target.” Lo said.

The health chief added that the global pandemic situation was still severe and – because the virus will keep evolving into various variants – Hong Kong cannot heave a sigh of relief.

Citing the death count of over 9,000 during Hong Kong’s fifth-wave, Lo said the government cannot “ignore” the coronavirus: “Some say ‘live with the virus,’ but – in fact – the virus is not co-existing with us,” he said.

On Thursday, the city has reported a total of 3,028 Covid-19 infections, of which 172 were imported – the first time for the daily case count exceeded 3,000 since early April.

Since the start of the pandemic two years ago, Hong Kong has registered 1,262,122 infections and 9,407 deaths.

Quarantine hotel shortage

Meanwhile, a lawmaker and representative from the tourism sector both said they were concerned about the short supply of quarantine hotel rooms.

Legislator Doreen Kong appeared on an RTHK programme on Friday saying that citizens had told her rooms are not available until after mid-August.

Currently, all arriving visitors to Hong Kong are required to undergo seven days of isolation at a designated hotel, making Hong Kong’s travel restrictions among the world’s tighest.

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The lawmaker said the government could consider opening up the city’s container-built temporary isolation facilities for inbound travellers to meet the heightened demand between July and August as students return for their summer holidays.

“These [facilities] were built for quarantine purposes, weren’t they? I think they are the most suitable and the most plausible option in the short-term,” Kong said.

Kong also urged the government to scrap hotel quarantine entirely when the resurgence of Covid-19 infections calms in the future and replace it with home isolation.

Timothy Chui, the executive director of the Hong Kong Tourism Association, echoed Kong during the same radio show and said it was “difficult to predict” how many flights to Hong Kong will resume.

“After all, those returning to Hong Kong have to undergo quarantine,” Chui added. But Chui said the tight supply of hotel rooms was “seasonal” and more rooms could be made available if authorities decided to shorten the required quarantine period.

The Co-chairperson of the Advisory Committee on Communicable Diseases at the Hong Kong Medical Association Joseph Tsang said during the same programme that the key to prevent the importation of Covid-19 cases was to carry out nucleic acid tests daily instead of hotel quarantine.

“If people do nucleic acid tests daily… I think it is not so most important where they isolate,” he said.

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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.