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Hong Kong lifts entry restrictions

Three years of stifling entrance restrictions are coming to an end in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong's hospitality industry is breathing a sigh of relief this month as the government removes some of the last remaining restrictions to entering the city.

From later this week, the government will finally drop its controversial 0+3 entry restriction. The unpopular rule was brought in as a safeguard when the city scrapped all hotel quarantine requirements in October. Under the restriction, travellers are unable to access restaurants, bars, museums, theme parks and other designated attractions until they have spent three days in the city and completed a raft of PCR and rapid antigen testing.

Perhaps predictably, very few tourists have made a return to the city under these conditions. As hospitality and tourism groups have pointed out time and again, most visitors to Hong Kong only stay for a few days, and if they can’t access attractions and restaurants, there is very little point in them making the stop. Lacklustre tourist numbers have borne out this assessment.

However, from Wednesday (December 14) arrivals who test negative on arrival will no longer receive an amber health code preventing them from entering off-limits premises for the first three days. Under the new rules, arrivals will still need to take a PCR test at Hong Kong airport and on day three, and a lateral flow test (rapid antigen test) for five days, but they will be free to access all areas of the city.

In more positive news, those who test positive at any stage of the arrival process will no longer be issued with an electronic wristband. However, they will still receive a red code meaning they cannot access designated premises across the city and they will be expected to follow isolation protocols. The mask mandate will also remain in place; all residents and visitors must wear a face mask both indoors and outdoors at all times, with few exceptions.

The LeaveHomeSafe app will be scrapped, meaning residents and visitors can enter premises such as restaurants and bars without having to scan the LeaveHomeSafe QR code on their phone. However, proof of vaccination, either as an app or a paper record, will be required for entry to certain premises, including restaurants.

It’s hoped that Hong Kong’s mainland border will be reopened prior to the busy Chinese New Year period at the end of January. Chief executive John Lee said his government had been “working hard” with mainland authorities on the matter. Pre-pandemic, Chinese mainland visitors accounted for around 80% of visitors to Hong Kong hotels. Tourist numbers to Hong Kong began to fall in 2019 when the city was hit by a raft of anti-government protests and then fell further still under three years of suffocating anti-Covid quarantine measures.

Cathay Pacific has released a statement saying it welcomes the new measures. "The adjustments will help further boost sentiment for travel, especially among inbound visitors, thereby facilitating the resumption of travel activities and strengthening of network connectivity at the Hong Kong aviation hub," it read.

Health officials recorded 14,717 Covid cases on Monday this week. Around five per cent were imported.

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