Hong Kong’s compulsory nucleic acid tests upon arrival could be carried out less frequently, a government Covid-19 advisor has said. However, the city’s health chief said testing requirements are to remain “at the current stage,” adding that self-administered rapid tests are less effective in catching positive cases at the border.

People undergoing Covid nucleic acid tests. File photo: GovHK.

Visitors to Hong Kong must fill in a government health declaration form and show a negative rapid test in order to board a flight. Travellers must perform daily rapid tests and four Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests during their first week in the city as part of a “self-monitoring” period. The PCR tests are conducted on the day of arrival – day zero – and again on day two, day four and day six.

If any tests return positive results, the visitor will be served with an isolation order. Depending on their living circumstances, they may be forced to go to a government quarantine camp.

Local respiratory expert David Hui told the media on Sunday that it remains necessary for authorities to require PCR tests at the border to help monitor for new Covid strains. But he said the frequency could be cut.

“If we look at the imported… positive cases, around 60 per cent were identified upon arrival. The remaining 40 per cent were found during the first to seventh day following their arrival.” Hui added.

Using travellers who stay for three nights as an example, Hui said it is only necessary for them to do one PCR test upon entering the city and another afterwards.

Government expert advisory David Hui met the press on November 13. Photo: RTHK, via video screenshot.

When asked about Hui’s suggestions, the Secretary for Health Lo Chung-mau told reporters that the PCR requirements for visitors will remain. Citing the figures of imported Covid-19 cases via the city’s airport, Lo said rapid tests could only identify 20.3 per cent of those who returned positive results in PCR tests.

“If there are more statistics proving that other measures are viable, we will absolutely consider [them.]” Lo said.

Mask mandate

Hui also said the government should consider scrapping the outdoor mask mandate when the winter passes and the public are vaccinated with updated Covid-19 jabs, which will provide better protection against various Omicron subvariants.

Secretary for Health Lo Chung-mau. File photo: Almond Li/HKFP.

The government expert advisory said he estimated that the new vaccines will arrive in Hong Kong in January.

Hui said it remains necessary for Hongkongers to wear masks in the short term as face coverings have prevented the outbreak of common respiratory viruses over the past two years. Citing Australia as an example, Hui said there was a serious outbreak of seasonal flu during its recent winter, “as people were not required to wear masks.”

Hong Kong’s rule mandating mask-wearing outdoors came into effect in July, 2020. Those who violates the mandate risk a fixed penalty of HK$5,000.

The government has allowed exemptions for those exercising outdoors or in gyms and sport stadiums since May this year, but not for smokers.

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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.