Travelers headed to Hong Kong no longer need to quarantine in a hotel upon arrival.
But they will have to submit to a barrage of Covid tests.
They can go to work, take public transport and go to supermarkets, but for the first three days, travelers can’t go into “high-risk premises” such as restaurants, bars and gyms.
Visitors who plan an eight-day trip must take 12 tests — four PCR and eight rapid antigen tests — which averages to 1.5 tests per day.
Moreover, those who test positive must isolate in a community facility for at least a week.
Still, the relaxed rules are welcome news to the city’s residents, who have endured hotel quarantine restrictions of up to three weeks at various points during the pandemic.
The news came the day after Hong Kong lost its No. 3 ranking on the The Global Financial Centers Index, ceding its position to Singapore, which climbed three places — surpassing Hong Kong and Shanghai — to become Asia’s top financial center.
The new rules
The new rules, effective Monday, require that before departing, travelers must:
- Test negative via a self-administered rapid antigen test
- Report the test result in an online health declaration
- Obtain a health declaration QR code to be presented before departing and upon arrival
- Be vaccinated to enter, or have a medical exemption certificate (if a non-resident and aged 12 or older)
After arriving, travelers must:
- Take a PCR test at the airport, then again on days 2, 4 and 6 (the arrival date is day 0)
- Take daily rapid antigen tests from days 1 to 7
- Submit to three days of medical surveillance, during which time they must avoid places like restaurants, nightclubs and salons
- Follow a four-day self-monitoring period
A rush to leave, less interest to enter
Friday’s announcement spurred a surge of outbound flight interest, according to the travel booking company Expedia.
Flight searches from Hong Kong to Japan saw a 10-fold increase in the three days following the announcement, compared to the week prior, while flight searches to Taiwan saw a 12-fold increase during the same time period, according to Expedia.
The top flight searches by Hong Kong travelers on Expedia over the weekend were to:
- Osaka, Japan
- Tokyo, Japan
- Seoul, South Korea
- Bangkok, Thailand
- Sapporo, Japan
- Taipei, Taiwan
- Taichung, Taiwan
- Fukuoka, Japan
- London, United Kingdom
However, travel interest to Hong Kong was much more tepid.
Expedia’s search data for accommodations in Hong Kong increased 50% over the weekend, compared to the week before the announcement.
Interest in going to Hong Kong wasn’t dominated by regional travelers either. The United Kingdom, Canada and the United States were the top inbound markets, according to Expedia’s flight search data.
Pang Yiu-kai, chairman of the Hong Kong Tourism Board, acknowledged on Tuesday that the eased rules are “expected to initially attract mainly business travelers, family visitors and returning Hong Kong residents.”
A step forward, yet still behind the times
Scrapping hotel quarantines is a “step forward,” said Joseph Armas, executive director of Hong Kong’s American Chamber of Commerce.
But to really boost the city’s tourism and hospitality sector, Armas said the remaining regulations need to be removed.
Japan is a recent example of a rule-laden reopening strategy that drew far fewer tourists than expected.
Japan announced Thursday travelers would be allowed to travel freely through the country starting Oct. 11, ending restrictions that were said to be confusing travelers the most. That same day, flight searches to Japan almost doubled, according to Expedia’s data.
Regina Ip, convenor of the Hong Kong Executive Council, said the “next logical step” for Hong Kong is to remove the three days of medical supervision that prohibits travelers from dining in restaurants.
Ip said she expects measures to be further relaxed next month after Hong Kong’s Chief Executive John Lee delivers his policy address on Oct. 19.
Prelude to China’s reopening?
The easing of Covid-19 measures in Hong Kong spurred hope among residents of China that they could soon see relaxed rules as well.
China’s borders have been shut since March of 2020, as the pandemic spread globally.
Currently, travelers entering the country must quarantine at a centralized facility — such as a hotel — for seven days, followed by an additional three days at home before going out.
“Many of the businesses and residents in Hong Kong rely on the mainland, and that travel back and forth is critical to their businesses,” Armas told CNBC’s “Squawkbox Asia” on Monday.
Although it seems like there’s light at the end of the tunnel, China is unlikely to see “significant easing” of Covid measures until next spring, said Andrew Tilton, chief Asia-Pacific economist at Goldman Sachs.
The elderly in China still need “a round of booster shots” and the government would want to ensure it has enough medication, should another Covid wave occur after the country reopens, he said.
“China is a big country. We are only one city … I’m not sure our approach could be applied to the entire country,” said Ip.
There could be some good news for residents in China though.
After almost three years, Macao is set to reopen its borders to travelers from China in the coming weeks, Reuters reported.
The world’s largest gambling hub has been badly hit by China’s zero-Covid policy, as its “main customer flows” come from the mainland, said Matthew Ossolinski, chairman of Ossolinski Holdings. When borders between China and Macao reopen, “it’ll be interesting to see if there’s a stampede or a trickle, but there’s an enormous amount of pent-up demand,” he added.