Hong Kong cuts foreign arrival quarantine from 21 to 14 days

Hong Kong cuts foreign arrival quarantine from 21 to 14 days
Pots of citrus trees are displayed for sale on a street to celebrate the Lunar New Year in Hong Kong (AP)

Hong Kong is cutting the length of mandatory quarantine for people arriving from overseas from 21 to 14 days, even as the southern Chinese city battles a new surge in Covid-19 cases.

Hong Kong is a major hub for business and finance and tight restrictions on foreign travel had drawn complaints, especially from the large expatriate community.

The relaxation of rules does not satisfy calls for a lowering of almost all quarantine requirements, as some countries have done, but represents a break with China and its “zero tolerance” policy toward the virus, where all foreign arrivals are required to isolate for 21 days, key domestic travel links have been cut and millions have been placed under lockdown.

After leaving their quarantine hotels, travellers to Hong Kong will still need to remain at home for an additional seven days for self-monitoring.

In-person school classes will remain suspended until February 21 and flight bans from the US, Australia, Canada, France, India, Pakistan, the Philippines and Britain where case numbers remain high will be extended until February 18.

A shop assistant wearing a face mask, waits for customer at a shop in Hong Kong (AP)

Restaurants still need to close at 6pm, proof of vaccination is required to gain access to many public areas and some apartment buildings remain under lockdown.

Authorities have announced 164 new cases, most of them imported or linked to imported cases.

Carrie Lam, the chief executive of the semi-autonomous region, told reporters on Thursday the loosening of quarantine restrictions was “not because of pressure from anybody. It’s just because of science”.

She said the change would be unlikely to satisfy the business community, but ruled out a complete opening of borders because “we do not possess the prerequisites for living with the virus”.

However, she added that if the vaccination rate reaches the target of 90%, “then that is the moment for us to consider some adaptation to our existing policies”.

The new outbreak prompted the city of Shenzhen just across the border in mainland China to tighten rules this week on people arriving from Hong Kong.

Starting on Wednesday, people arriving from Hong Kong will need to show a negative Covid-19 test result obtained over the previous 24 hours, undergo 14 days of quarantine at a government-designated location and complete seven further days of isolation at home.

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