Travelers heading to Hong Kong will no longer have to quarantine themselves in a hotel upon arrival.
But they have to undergo a barrage of Covid tests.
They can go to work, use public transport and go to supermarkets, but for the first three days travelers are not allowed to enter “risk rooms” such as restaurants, bars and gyms.
Visitors planning an eight-day trip are required to take 12 tests — four PCR and eight rapid antigen tests — an average of 1.5 tests per day.
In addition, those who test positive must isolate themselves in a community facility for at least a week.
Still, the relaxed rules are welcome news for city residents, who have endured hotel quarantine restrictions of up to three weeks at various times during the pandemic.
The news came the day after Hong Kong lost its No. 3 position in the Global Financial Centers Index and ceded its position to Singapore, which rose — and outperformed — three places Hong Kong and Shanghai – to become Asia’s most important financial center.
The new rules
The new rules, which come into effect on Monday, require travelers to:
- Test negative via a self-performed rapid antigen test
- Report the test result in an online health declaration
- Obtain a QR code for health declaration to be presented prior to departure and upon arrival
- You must be vaccinated to enter the country or have a medical exemption certificate (if you are a non-resident and are at least 12 years old).
Upon arrival, travelers must:
- Do a PCR test at the airport, then again on days 2, 4 and 6 (the arrival date is day 0)
- From days 1 to 7, perform rapid antigen tests daily
- Undergo a three-day medical surveillance during which they must avoid places such as restaurants, nightclubs, and saloons
- Follow a four-day self-monitoring phase
A rush to leave, less interest to enter
Friday’s announcement has prompted a surge in interest in outbound flights, according to travel booking company Expedia.
Flight searches from Hong Kong to Japan increased 10-fold in the three days following the announcement compared to the week before, while flight searches to Taiwan increased 12-fold over the same period, according to Expedia.
Hong Kong travelers’ top weekend flight searches on Expedia were:
- Osaka, Japan
- Tokyo, Japan
- Seoul, South Korea
- Bangkok, Thailand
- Sapporo, Japan
- Taipei, Taiwan
- Taichung, Taiwan
- Fukuoka, Japan
- London, United Kingdom
Interest in travel to Hong Kong, however, has been much tepid.
Expedia’s search data for Hong Kong accommodation increased by 50% over the weekend compared to the week before the announcement.
Interest in traveling to Hong Kong was not dominated by regional travelers either. The UK, Canada and the United States were the top inbound markets according to Expedia flight search data.
Pang Yiu-kai, chairman of the Hong Kong Tourism Board, conceded on Tuesday that the relaxed rules “are initially expected to attract mostly business travelers, family visitors and returning Hong Kong residents.”
A step forward but still behind the times
Getting rid of hotel quarantines is a “step forward,” said Joseph Armas, executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong.
But to really boost the city’s tourism and hospitality sector, Armas said remaining regulations must be lifted.
Japan is a recent example of a rules-laden reopening strategy that drew far fewer tourists than expected.
Japan announced on Thursday that travelers will be allowed to travel freely across the country from October 11, ending restrictions designed to confuse travelers the most. On the same day, flight searches to Japan almost doubled, according to data from Expedia.
Hong Kong Executive Council Chairwoman Regina Ip said the “next logical step” for Hong Kong is to scrap the three-day medical surveillance that bans travelers from dining in restaurants.
Ip said she expects lockdowns to be eased further next month after Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee delivered his keynote address on Oct. 19.
Prelude to China’s reopening?
The easing of Covid-19 measures in Hong Kong has raised hopes among Chinese residents that they may soon see relaxed rules as well.
China’s borders have been closed since March 2020 as the pandemic spreads around the world.
Currently, travelers entering the country must quarantine at a central facility – such as a hotel – for seven days, followed by a further three days at home before exiting.
“Many of Hong Kong’s businesses and residents rely on the mainland and this back-and-forth travel is vital to their businesses,” Armas told CNBC’s Squawkbox Asia on Monday.
Although it appears there is light at the end of the tunnel, China is unlikely to see “significant easing” of Covid measures by next spring, said Andrew Tilton, chief economist for Asia-Pacific at Goldman Sachs .
The elderly in China still need “a round of booster shots” and the government would want to make sure it has enough medicine should another Covid wave hit once the country reopens, he said.
“China is a big country. We’re just one city… I’m not sure our approach could be applied to the entire country,” Ip said.
However, there could be some good news for residents of China.
After nearly three years, Macau is set to reopen its borders to travelers from China in the coming weeks, Reuters reported.
The world’s largest gaming hub has been hit hard by China’s zero-Covid policy as its “main customer flows” come from the mainland, said Matthew Ossolinski, chairman of Ossolinski Holdings. When the China-Macao borders reopen, “it will be interesting to see if there’s a rush or a trickle, but there’s a huge amount of catching up to do,” he added.