Hong Kong no longer requires residents to scan a QR code using the Covid-19 LeaveHomeSafe app to enter restaurants and other businesses. Additionally, arrivals to the city – who were previously barred from entering certain premises including bars and eateries within their first three days in Hong Kong – are not subject to any such restrictions.

Chief Executive John Lee said on Tuesday that the adjustments were based on data, risk assessment and the “actual situation.” The relaxations come as China rapidly eases anti-epidemic rules in the wake of multi-city protests against almost three years of strict zero-Covid restrictions.

leavehomesafe immigration tower
People are required to use the LeaveHomeSafe app to enter the Immigration Tower in Wan Chai. Photo: GovHK.

Restrictions in Hong Kong, however, remain stricter than in some areas of China, and arrivals still face multiple Covid-19 tests and bureaucracy that has been scrapped almost everywhere else. The city’s health chief has said Covid policy will not “hastily follow” the mainland’s.

HKFP reviews what restrictions remain, as of December 14, 2022.

Masks in public, 24/7

Unlike in much of China, masks must still be worn in public places – including outside, in shops and on public transport – or residents risk a fixed penalty of HK$5,000. The government has allowed exemptions for those exercising outdoors or in gyms and sports venues, but not for smokers.

The city’s leader has indicated that face coverings are here to stay: “Masks will stay on because I think all experts have indicated masks [are] important to control the spread of the disease,” Lee said last month. But some experts, such as epidemiologist Ben Cowling, have said there is little scientific reason for the requirement at this stage in the pandemic.

Covid rules
File photo: Pixabay.

Group gathering ban

Gatherings of more than 12 people are banned in public places. Groups must also remain at least 1.5 metres apart. Local tour groups are limited to 30 people, or 100 people if all tourists have undergone a rapid test. Violators face a HK$5,000 fixed penalty.

Vaccine Pass requirement for key venues

Since February 24, residents must show proof of vaccination to enter venues such as supermarkets, malls, schools, government offices and hospitals.

Currently, those aged 12 and above must have had at least three doses of a Covid vaccination – or two if they received their second jab less than five months prior.

Covid rules
File photo: Pixabay.

Children aged five to 11 are required to have received two doses, or one if they had their first dose within the past three months.

Regulated Vaccine Pass premises – click to view
VenuesPresentation of proof of vaccination QR code upon entry / upon request by law enforcement
Restaurants & barsupon entry
Supermarketsupon request
Marketsupon request
Shopping mallsupon request
Department storesupon request
Club housesupon entry
Gymsupon entry
Sports premisesupon entry
Swimming Poolsupon entry
Places of public entertainment (e.g. cinemas & theatres)upon entry
Beauty parloursupon entry
Hair salonsupon entry
Massage parloursupon entry
Event premises upon entry
Party roomsupon entry
Nightclubsupon entry
Places of amusement (e.g. ice skating rinks)upon entry
Religious venuesupon entry
Bathhousesupon entry
Cruise shipsupon entry
Karaoke establishmentsupon entry
Mahjong housesupon entry
Hotels (staff only)upon entry
Amusement game centresupon entry
Public hospitalsnot required
Government premisesnot required

Eight Covid tests for arrivals

Visitors to Hong Kong must fill in a government health declaration form and show a negative rapid test prior to boarding a flight. Non-residents must be vaccinated in order to enter. Some airlines also impose additional requirements.

Arrivals must perform daily rapid tests for five days, and take two PCR tests: one upon arrival, which is considered day “zero”, and again on their second day in the city.

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.

Restaurant restrictions

Only 12 people are allowed on each table at restaurants, with screens or distancing still imposed to allow space between groups.

The same limits apply to groups at swimming pools, sports premises, fitness centres, beauty parlours and massage establishments, places of public entertainment, places of amusement, amusement game centres, event premises, religious premises, barber shops/hair salons, bathhouses, party rooms, clubs and nightclubs, karaoke venues, mahjong premises and cruise ships.

Covid rules
File photo: Pixabay.

At catering premises, when diners are away from a table, they must not consume food or drink and must wear a mask. Proof of vaccination is required to enter all eateries.

Up to 240 people may attend a banquet, though they must undergo and show proof of having taken a rapid test within 24 hours.

Restrictions on bars and clubs

Those wishing to enter bars or nightclubs must show a photo of a negative result from a rapid test performed in the past 24-hours with their name written on it, as well as the time and date it was taken.

Up to six people are allowed per table, and venues may only fill up to 75 per cent capacity. When revellers at bars are away from a table, they must not consume food or drink and must wear a mask – including when dancing.

Eating/drinking ban on public transport

Eating and drinking is to remain banned on Hong Kong public transport, the Health Bureau confirmed to HKFP last month. The department said that the rules were “science-based and targeted.” While consuming food and drink was always banned in paid areas of the MTR, it was previously allowed on many ferry routes.

Event restrictions

Various restrictions have been imposed on recent public events, while some have failed to gain approval altogether. The Hong Kong Marathon was axed, and then rescheduled for next February. The cross-harbour swim was allowed to take place, but limited to 1,500 swimmers.

Meanwhile, restrictions have been placed on sporting events. Last month, the government gave approval to a trail run, but said that snacks like bananas may only be consumed silently in certain areas, and only if runners are alone.

Police powers and fines

Police retain special powers to disperse illegal group gatherings and demand personal details and ID cards of those suspected of violating Covid rules. They can also inspect restricted premises and impose penalties.

Other authorised officers – such as those from the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department and Food and Environmental Hygiene Department – are also empowered to impose fines.

Restricted capacity at leisure facilities

Public swimming pools may only welcome swimmers up to 50 per cent of their capacity, whilst the capacity of other outdoor venues is also limited, including in spectator stands.

Covid rules
File photo: Pixabay.

Water fountains closed

Water dispensers at all public leisure grounds have been suspended since January 29, 2020, and remain taped up.

Frequent Covid testing for key workers

Teachers, healthcare workers, care home staff, musicians at live music venues and catering staff are among those who must undergo regular Covid tests.

Other venue restrictions

Cinemas, performance venues, museums, event premises and religious premises may only fill their premises up to 85 per cent capacity.

School restrictions

All Hong Kong students must take daily rapid tests to enter school grounds.

Full-day in-person classes were suspended for primary and secondary students in August 2020.

Secondary and primary schools must achieve a 70 per cent double-vaccination rate among pupils before they can apply to resume full-day classes or offer after-school extracurricular activities.

There are currently no plans to resume full-day teaching at kindergarten level.

Mainland medics allowed in

In February, the government invoked emergency powers to allow in doctors and nurses from the mainland to help tackle the fifth wave of Covid-19.

Quarantine for infected persons

Depending on the severity of symptoms, those who report a positive test result to the government may be sent to hospital, a community isolation facility, or may be allowed to isolate at home.

Under new rules announced in December, patients and close contacts – regardless of their vaccination status – will be able to complete a five-day minimum isolation period if they test negative on rapid antigen tests on the fourth and fifth day

Household close contacts of infected people may also undergo home quarantine. However, those who live in subdivided flats, or do not have a functional flushing toilet or hand washing facility, or who live with high-risk individuals, may not be allowed to isolate at home.

Local mandatory testing

Those residing in areas of an outbreak defined by the government can be made to undergo a compulsory Covid-19 PCR test. Fixed penalties of HK$10,000 are imposed on those who fail to undergo a test.

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Tom founded Hong Kong Free Press in 2015 and is the editor-in-chief. In addition to editing, he is responsible for managing the newsroom and company - including fundraising, recruitment and overseeing HKFP's web presence and ethical guidelines.

He has a BA in Communications and New Media from Leeds University and an MA in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong. He previously led an NGO advocating for domestic worker rights, and has contributed to the BBC, Deutsche Welle, Al-Jazeera and others.