Hong Kong will slash the Covid-19 quarantine period for patients and close contacts to five days from Friday, authorities have announced.

Penny's Bay Covid-19 quarantine centre on Lantau
Penny’s Bay Covid-19 quarantine centre on Lantau. File photo: GovHK.

Currently, Covid-19 patients and close contacts who have received three vaccine shots must undergo isolation at home or in a government facility for seven days. Those who are unvaccinated or have only gotten one shot need to quarantine for 14 days.

Under the new rules, Covid-19 patients and close contacts – regardless of their vaccination status – will be able to complete their isolation period if they are negative on rapid antigen tests on the fourth and fifth day, authorities said at a press conference on Thursday.

Meanwhile, overseas arrivals will only have to undergo five days – instead of a week – of rapid antigen testing. The new rules apply to those who landed in Hong Kong on or after December 2. The requirement for them to take a PCR test on their day of arrival and day two remain unchanged.

The daily number of cases over the past seven days averaged at 10,773, the Centre for Health Protection’s Albert Au said. The city recorded a 25.5 per cent increase in cases this week compared to the previous week, he added.

“Locally acquired cases over the past week has risen further… and the number of cases in elderly and disabled homes is at a high level,” Au said.

The number of imported Covid-19 cases, meanwhile, has remained relatively stable.

Hong Kong recorded 14,373 new Covid-19 cases on Thursday, a figure that Under Secretary for Health Libby Lee said was the highest since July.

street central walking economy
A street in Central. Photo: GovHK.

Explaining the reason for the quarantine relaxation, Lee said an analysis of close contacts who then tested positive for Covid-19 from September to November showed that in 94 per cent of the time, the patients’ infections were found by the fifth day.

“So we think [this rule change] is relatively safe,” Lee said.

Meanwhile, authorities announced on Wednesday that members of the public will be able to receive their fifth Covid-19 jab starting from Friday next week. They can choose between the Sinovac, BioNTech and the Omicron-specific BioNTech shot.

Nationwide relaxations

The quarantine relaxation comes as China announced on Wednesday a nationwide loosening of pandemic restrictions that include reducing the frequency of tests, limiting the scope of lockdowns and allowing the infected to isolate at home instead of in government facilities.

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The new rules represent a major easing of China’s strict Covid-19 policies, and come after protests in many cities against the country’s zero-Covid approach.

Asked by a reporter whether the rule changes were made due to relaxations announced in mainland China on Wednesday, Lee said there was “no direct relationship.”

“Our aim is to enact precise anti-epidemic policies… based on the numbers,” adding that there was “room” for the loosening under the current circumstances.

Hong Kong still enforces a group gathering limit of 12 people in public, makes mask-wearing compulsory, and requires tracing apps for entering certain premises such as restaurants.

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Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.