Addressing calls for the complete removal of Covid-19 travel restrictions, Chief Executive John Lee has said there are still many “uncertain factors” at play and the government must adjust entry rules “steadily” according to the number of infections.

However, former chief executive of Hospital Authority Leung Pak-yin said authorities should focus on the severity of cases rather than the total amount, adding that he expected restriction-free travel to be announced this month.

Chief Executive meets the press on October 11. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP

Lee told reporters on Tuesday that authorities were monitoring whether the city’s health system could handle an increase in infections before introducing any further relaxations to Covid-19 entry restrictions.

Hong Kong had logged around 4,900 daily infections over the past weekend, Lee added, “showing signs that [the case count] may rebound to over 5,000.”

In addition, Lee said the number of imported cases has increased from 100-odd to more than 300 since the removal of the hotel quarantine requirement for inbound travellers.

“The number of arrivals via the airport has increased by 30 per cent overall, but the number of imported cases has more than doubled,” Lee said.

The city’s leader also said there would be increased risk of importing new coronavirus variants if there were more overseas arrivals, adding that instances of people flouting anti-epidemic rules had made him more cautious about relaxing Covid measures.

Arrivals at Hong Kong International Airport after hotel quarantine axed. File photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

On Monday, the Centre for Health Protection revealed in a press release that Hong Kong had logged two new Omicron subvariants – BA.2.75.2 and XBB.1 – via imported cases. Both patients had no symptoms.

According to Ming Pao, both patients arrived in Hong Kong before hotel quarantine was axed and tested positive on September 27.

‘Nothing to be afraid of’

Nevertheless, former Hospital Authority chief Leung wrote on his Facebook page around an hour after John Lee’s meeting with the press that the “most important” factor to consider before completely removing Covid-19 travel restrictions was the clinical condition of patients instead of the number of infections.

Former chief executive of the Hospital Authority Leung Pak-yin. File photo: PY Leung, via Facebook.

“Currently most of the local or imported patients have mild or no symptoms, and they do not need to be hospitalised,” Leung said.

In response to the chief executive’s concern on importing potential new variants, Leung said years of observation in virology and epidemiology showed that the wider virus variants spread, the weaker they tended to become.

“As long as there is a high vaccination rate and effective medicine for treatment, there’s nothing to be afraid of,” Leung said.

The former head of the Hospital Authority wrote that he expected authorities to announce the removal of travel restrictions this month. “[I] look forward to good news in the policy address.”

John Lee’s first ever policy address is scheduled for next Wednesday.

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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.