Hong Kong will reduce the number of Covid-19 PCR tests for international and Taiwan arrivals from four to two starting next Monday, local health authorities announced on Thursday.

Residents queue for Covid-19 testing in Kowloon Park. File photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Currently, arrivals need to undergo a PCR test once they land at the airport, and then on the second, fourth and sixth day, while rapid antigen tests (RATs) are mandatory every day until the seventh day.

The amendment will only require travellers to conduct the PCR test at the airport and on the second day, but the daily RAT requirement remains the same.

Undersecretary for Health Libby Lee made the announcement at a Covid-19 policy press conference on Thursday, saying more than 80 per cent of imported infections were detected through the PCR test carried out on arrival, or on the second day. Therefore, the need for the fourth and sixth day tests was rather low.

She added that the incubation period for the Omicron variant is relatively short, so if a person tested positive on the fourth or sixth day, “the chance of a local infection is probably greater than them being an imported case.”

Travellers who arrive at Hong Kong from Thursday will benefit from the amended measure, which comes into force on Monday.

Testing requirements for arrivals from the mainland and Macau meanwhile remain the same: they still need to undergo a PCR test on the second day and self-monitor for three days upon their arrival.

Hong Kong International Airport in July 2022 amid the Covid-19 pandemic. File photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Lee said that the authorities “did not ease” Covid-19 rules, claiming it was just a “refinement” since international arrivals are still required to conduct daily RATs for a week. They also face the same limitations through an “amber code” for arrivals on the government’s LeaveHomeSafe contact-tracing app, which limits their access to certain venues like restaurants for three days.

When asked whether the government will consider reducing or scrapping the daily RAT requirement for arrivals, Lee said “it is too early to comment, too early to conclude right now.”

“Maybe [when] we actually cut the PCR [test requirement] for day zero or day two, and then we can look at the data again, see whether we can actually further streamline the RAT testing,” she said.

‘Transitional Vaccine Pass’

Also on Thursday, the government introduced a new “transitional vaccine pass” for jab exemption certificate holders who plan to get inoculated now but need more time to meet the requirement of a valid Vaccine Pass.

The Prevention and Control of Disease (Vaccine Pass) Regulation was updated to include the new transitional vaccine pass. Photo: Almond Li/HKFP.

From November 30, children aged five to 11 will need at least two doses of the Covid jab to be considered fully vaccinated, while those above 12 have to have at least three doses.

Since people need to wait for at least six months between jabs, the transitional vaccine pass grants them a temporary valid status and allows them to enter venues that perform active checking of Vaccine Pass.

Undersecretary for Health Libby Lee. Photo: Screenshot, via GovHK.

Lee said the chance of the new scheme being abused is low because applicants need to present an expired exemption certificate as proof of eligibility.

“And then you have to have started the vaccination programme before we can grant you the exemption – the transitional exemption right now.”

She estimated around 50,000 people will benefit from the transitional vaccine pass measure.

Strict rules remain

Hong Kong remains one of the few places in the world which still enforces strict Covid-19 rules. Residents and visitors face a HK$5,000 fine unless masks are worn at all times in public. A group gathering limit of 12 people is still in force, and mandatory Covid contact-tracing apps proving vaccination status must be used to enter key venues.

There are restrictions on restaurants, pools, fitness centres, pubs, clubs and other venues, and infected persons may – in some cases – be forced to isolate in a government facility.

Hong Kong has recorded just over two million infections and 10,589 deaths since the pandemic began.

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Almond Li

Almond Li is a Hong Kong-based journalist who previously worked for Reuters and Happs TV as a freelancer, and as a reporter at Hong Kong International Business Channel, Citizen News and Commercial Radio Hong Kong. She earned her Masters in Journalism at the University of Southern California. She has an interest in LGBT+, mental health and environmental issues.