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Hong Kong cuts quarantine for travellers

No more Penny's Bay; travellers line-up to be 'processed' at the notorious government quarantine facility.

Hong Kong has slashed its quarantine requirement to 14 days, following an announcement by chief executive Carrie Lam.

Further updates to Covid regulations include an extension to flight bans and an extended suspension of face-to-face teaching in schools. The city effectively remains under a semi-lockdown as it enters the Lunar New Year period due to surging omicron cases and a government grappling to maintain its zero-Covid policy.

However, at the highly anticipated press briefing late on Thursday, Lam cut the city’s controversial 21 day quarantine to 14 days effective February 5 and streamlined all overseas places as ‘Group A’.

But it was not all good news for travellers. The flight suspensions for Australia, Britain, Canada, France, India, Pakistan, Philippines and the US were extended until February 18, dashing many residents’ hopes of being able to return home to the Asian hub. However, the wash-out period was effectively cut by a week with the new requirement that residents must not have been in these countries for more than two hours in the last 14 days. Currently, residents must have been outside of these places for 21 days.

The updated regulations also mean that travellers from certain high-risk countries will no longer be sent to the dreaded government quarantine facility at Penny’s Bay for the first four days. Conditions at the facility have been described as “difficult”, with travellers locked into small rooms with uncomfortable wooden beds, inadequate or non-existent bed linen, no Wifi, no external food delivery and an often chaotic management, with missed mealtimes and sketchy amenities. Some travellers have reported having to share sheets, blankets and towels and resorted to sleeping on the floor due to the conservative bed sizes.

All travellers will now be sent directly to their designated quarantine hotel for 14 days. This will be followed by seven-days of ‘self-monitoring’; there will be no restriction on movement during this final week but two compulsory tests must be completed.

Travellers who arrived, or will arrive, in Hong Kong between January 16 and February 5 and are in receipt of a 21-day quarantine order will be able to leave quarantine after 14 days if they submit a negative test. The Department of Health will arrange relevant testing to enable incarcerated travellers to meet this requirement.

Further stipulations mean all arrivals must be Hong Kong residents and they must be fully vaccinated. There are vaccine exemptions for children under 12 years and who are travelling with inoculated adults.

Whether these moves are enough to appease both weary residents and Hong Kong’s business community - which has been pushing hard for the easing of quarantine - remains to be seen.

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