Friday,  February 3, 2023  11:50 pm

Hong Kong eases some travel restrictions amid China’s “zero-COVID” exit

Hong Kong eases some travel restrictions amid China’s “zero-COVID” exit
Michael Pihach

Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.

Hope is on the horizon for Hong Kong’s struggling tourism sector as the destination scraps some pandemic-era rules as China pivots away from its zero-tolerance COVID approach.

Starting Wednesday (Dec. 14), the government will end its ban on international arrivals visiting bars or eating at restaurants – known as the “amber code” – and stop requiring people to scan a QR code on their phones to enter venues, Chief Executive John Lee said at a press conference yesterday (Dec. 13).

Some venues, however, will still require proof of vaccination upon entry, he said.

“All people want to have less restrictions as much as possible, while ensuring activities socially and economically can proceed as much as possible,” Lee said.

Hong Kong’s reopening comes one week after China began dismantling its tough “zero-COVID” controls following mass protests against lockdowns in November.

Strict COVID-19 rules have crippled parts of the city’s economy – economists expect gross domestic product to contract this year for the third time in four years, while the city’s population dropped the most in at least six decades in the 12 months through June, according to Bloomberg.

Testing remains

Later Tuesday, Secretary for Health Lo Chung-Mau explained what some of the eased measures entail.  

It includes the elimination of COVID-19 tests at border points for mainland travel and a reduction in mandating testing notices to buildings.

International travellers must still undergo a PCR test on arrival in Hong Kong and on the second day of their visit, plus five days of rapid antigen tests. 

Those who test positive must isolate and masks  remain mandatory in public venues, including outdoors, according to a report from CNN.

A tale that echoes a similar situation that once played out in Canada, which, for more than two years, was bound to strict travel and testing restrictions, COVID-19 in Hong Kong isn’t a problem that’s fuelled by international travel, officials noted.  

Currently, about 1.6 per recent of international arrivals test positive, compared with 2.5 per cent of local residents, which means the risk of importing the virus is low, Lo said.

Promotional campaigns coming

Hong Kong first began easing restrictions in September, dropping a mandatory hotel quarantine and implementing a “0+3” policy in which travellers could go outside (but were not allowed to visit bars and restaurants).

“The new arrangements marks the opening of the tourism doors of Hong Kong. Upon fulfilling the vaccination and COVID-19 test requirements, visitors can now enjoy Hong Kong’s full range of diverse and exciting experiences, including our culinary offerings. We expect that the new measures will stimulate travellers interests in visiting Hong Kong,” said Dr. Pang Yiu-kai, chairman of Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB), in a statement yesterday.

“HKTB is working tirelessly and will soon roll out large-scale promotional campaigns to demonstrate Hong Kong’s eagerness in welcoming back visitors. We will also actively attract visitors to Hong Kong. Details will be announced soon.”

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