Hong Kong will announce any changes to its Covid-19 hotel quarantine arrangements “as soon as possible,” Chief Executive John Lee has said.

Lee’s comments, made during his weekly press briefing on Tuesday, came amid a chorus of expert advisors, lawmakers, event organisers and business owners urging the administration to loosen quarantine restrictions for incoming travellers.

Specimen collection area at the Hong Kong International Airport. File Photo: GovHK.

Currently, visitors have to undergo three nights of compulsory hotel quarantine at their own cost, followed by a four-night “medical surveillance” period, during which they are restricted from entering various venues such as restaurants.

As one of the few places globally that still imposes mandatory quarantine on incoming travellers, Hong Kong has maintained some of the world’s strictest Covid-19 quarantine requirements since the pandemic began more than two and a half years ago.

To date, the city has recorded 1,713,755 Covid-19 infections, and 9,901 relates deaths, with daily caseloads recently falling from a high of around 10,000 in mid-August. On Monday, the city saw 6,260 infections, of which 174 were imported.

“In the face of the positive downward-facing trend of the number of infections, we are actively looking into whether there is room for any further adjustments in our quarantine arrangements,” Lee said on Tuesday.

“I hope that we can complete the relevant analysis quickly, and make an announcement as soon as possible.”

The city’s financial chief Paul Chan warned last week that Hong Kong may see a deficit of HK$100 billion, its second-highest in history.

Chief Executive John Lee meeting the press on September 20, 2022. Photo: RTHK, via video screenshot.

The chief executive also said he was aware that “threats to the economy [do] exist.” The government had been making sure that the “right injections” were being made to stimulate the economy, he added, citing the consumption voucher scheme.

‘The fight for survival’

In recent days, an increasing number of high-profile figures have spoken out about the need to reopen Hong Kong to the world.

“Returning to normalcy is the fight for survival,” former secretary for transport and housing Anthony Cheung wrote in an op-ed for Ming Pao on Tuesday. The ex-official said that people expected the government to show a “clear and progressive pathway to the endgame” in the chief executive’s first policy address in October.

Cheung said that, in reality, there was no entirely risk-free resumption of quarantine-free travel or return to normalcy. Instead it was a matter of how much relative risk the city could bear.

According to Cheung, the city was at risk of losing more international business, investment and talent, as well as major events and competitions, and the slump of industries such as tourism and aviation if Hong Kong insisted on avoiding the risks associated with Covid-19.

Anthony Cheung. File Photo: GovHK.

“Fighting the pandemic is the fight for survival and protecting lives. How is the resumption of quarantine-free travel and returning to normalcy not the fight for the survival of Hong Kong’s vitality?” wrote Cheung.

‘Endemic’ Covid-19

Additionally, four medical experts, including the city’s leading microbiologist Yuen Kwok-yung, said that Hong Kong should relax Covid-19 restrictions “as soon as possible,” as the community had already “built a barrier against severe cases.”

Hong Kong “definitely” has the conditions to implement the “0+7” quarantine model, where hotel isolations are scrapped and arrivals are restricted from some venues, or even fewer restrictions, Yuen wrote in an op-ed published by Master Insight on Monday, along with Professor Jin Dongyan, microbiologists Siddharth Sridhar and Jasper Chan of the University of Hong Kong.

The group of experts said that Covid-19 had already become “endemic” in the city, as the death rate since the sixth wave of the pandemic, which began in June, had fallen to 0.097 per cent.

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Candice Chau

Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.