Hong Kong quarantine will be eased from next month.
Hong Kong quarantine remains in place, following an announcement by the city’s chief executive, Carrie Lam Yuet-ngor.
However, the Hong Kong government signalled an easing of its strict Covid entrance restrictions in the hour-long press announcement on Monday morning. According to Lam, flight bans on nine countries would be dropped and quarantine would be scaled back to seven days.
Currently, nine countries including the US, UK, Australia, Canada, France, India, Pakistan, Nepal and the Philippines have a flight ban in place. This means that direct passenger flights are not permitted to land and Hong Kong residents travelling from these areas must ‘washout’ in a permitted country for 14 days before entering Hong Kong. The regulations were introduced in January and are now to be dropped from April 1.
According to Lam, the flight suspensions were “no longer timely” as the pandemic situation in these nine countries was often “no worse than Hong Kong”.
Cheering though this news will be for the many residents who have been stranded overseas since before Chinese New Year, the announcement was light on details regarding pilot quarantine and whether airlines would be able to start operating viable Hong Kong routes again. Currently many airlines, including British Airways, Swiss Air Lines, Virgin and Finn Air, have suspended all services to the territory. Two-week suspensions on airlines are regularly imposed if a flight lands with more than three infected passengers on board, or passengers with incomplete paperwork. Currently Singapore Airlines and Qatar Airways are both operating under 14-day suspensions.
By Tuesday, Cathay Pacific had begun scheduling flights from the banned countries, albeit with a severely limited service due to the punishing 14-day flight-specific suspension mechanism.
Questions were also raised about Hong Kong’s vaccination requirements, particularly for children, with many areas of the world now stipulating full vaccination includes a third, booster shot. However, so far there has been no amendment to the two-shot within 14 day requirement, with exemptions for children under 12 years.
Confusion also surrounded the quarantine period. Under current rules, travellers (with exceptions for mainland China, Macau and Taiwan) must carry-out a mandatory 14 day hotel quarantine on arrival in the territory. Lam stipulated that travellers could now exit their quarantine on day seven if they returned a negative PCR test on day eight followed by two negative lateral flow (rapid antigen) tests. However, it was unclear as to whether hotel bookings should be made for 14 or seven days, although there were later reports that a seven day stay was being accepted by some hotels. Under the new rules, all travellers must take a further PCR test on day 12.
Dates were also a matter for debate. While it was clearly stipulated that the flight ban would be dropped from April 1, the South China Morning Post was later reporting that the new, shorter quarantine requirements would not be introduced until April 21. Many quarantine hotels were reportedly not accepting bookings until May.
Following the announcement, eighteen more hotels have been added as designated quarantine facilities to meet demand, taking the overall total number of quarantine accommodations to 43 properties across the territory.
The changes were cautiously welcomed by Hong Kongers, although confidence was not high that the government wouldn’t u-turn on its new policies. In summer 2021, travellers from the UK were left disappointed when hopes were initially raised with a three-week quarantine requirement dropping to 14 days, but within a matter of days of the positive news a second flight ban with London was introduced, leaving many UK-based boarding and university students stranded for the summer break.
More information for inbound travellers can be found online.
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