Hong Kong will soon exempt travellers in tour groups from Covid-19 rules that bar new arrivals from going to restaurants and other venues during the first three days of their visit.
The government said in a statement on Monday that the new measures were announced “under the principle of striking a balance between epidemic risks and the need for economic development.” Individuals, and those not in group tours, will still be subject to the usual rules.
No timeline was given for the relaxation, but the government said the arrangements will be launched “this month.”
Currently, all inbound travellers to Hong Kong are assigned an amber code in their Vaccine Pass app for the first three days. This means they are not allowed to enter venues operating under the Vaccine Pass scheme, including restaurants, bars, gyms, salons and other businesses.
Under the new arrangements, those entering Hong Kong in tour groups operated by “licensed tourist guides” will be able to enter “designated tourist attractions” including theme parks, museums and temples with an amber code in their Vaccine Pass.
They will also be able to eat in the “partitioned areas” of “designated catering premises” that meet the government’s requirements.
The tour groups’ travel agents must pre-register trip itineraries with the Travel Industry Council, a group that regulates travel agents in Hong Kong.
Authorities said they are also exploring the possibility of reducing the number of Covid-19 tests tour group travellers have to undergo fewer Covid-19 tests upon arrival. At the moment, arrivals must take four PCR tests – including one at the Hong Kong airport – and rapid tests every day for a week.
While Hong Kong has dropped many of its strictest travel-related Covid-19 measures in recent months, including a requirement for arrivals to quarantine in a hotel, the city still maintains rules that countries around the world have long abandoned.
Businesses have expressed concern that the current “0+3” requirement is not enough to drive tourism as travellers cannot eat out and go to many attractions in their first three days.
The government said plans to relax rules for travellers coming in with tour groups would move Hong Kong towards resuming normalcy and restarting tourism.
“The relevant arrangements can support the gradual resumption of the inbound travel market in an orderly manner, and provide a more favourable business environment for the travel trade,” authorities said in the statement.
According to the government’s Covid-19 dashboard, the city has seen 1.95 million cases and 10,475 deaths.