A Hong Kong government advisory panel suggested the city could shorten hotel quarantine periods for some fully vaccinated inbound passengers, in what would mark an easing of some of the world’s strictest COVID-19 restrictions for travelers.
Inoculated people who have tested negative for the virus and are coming from countries not classified as “high-risk” should qualify for a seven-day hotel quarantine, David Hui, a member of the government’s scientific committee, said at a briefing Wednesday evening. The proposed exemption would require a positive antibody test result conducted in Hong Kong after arrival, he said.
“The purpose of checking the antibody is to show evidence of response to vaccination,” the panel said. “If the serology test result is negative, the shortening of the quarantine period could not be considered.”
Travelers would still be required to self-monitor for another week after the seven-day quarantine at a designated hotel, Hui said. COVID-19 tests will be administered more frequently, potentially every two to three days, he said.
The panel did not give a time frame for when such a proposal might be approved. Ronald Lam, controller of Hong Kong’s Center for Health Protection, said the government would examine the recommendations.
The majority of people arriving in Hong Kong must currently isolate in a hotel for 14 or 21 days upon arrival. Only fully vaccinated, COVID-19-negative travelers coming from “low-risk” countries including Australia and New Zealand can qualify for a seven-day hotel quarantine.
Under current classifications, countries with significant numbers of Hong Kong expatriates including the U.S., U.K. and Canada are still labeled “high risk.”
The government last month adopted a previous recommendation by the panel to ease quarantine for residents who are close contacts of people infected with COVID-19.
A shortening of quarantine periods would come after pushback from Hong Kong’s expat community and residents who travel internationally, who are required to pay for weeks of hotel stays and undergo multiple tests in order to travel to and from the city — even if they’ve had their shots. The move would also ease pressure on the hotels designated for quarantine, some of which are backlogged amid summer holidays.
The average booking rate at participating hotels for the first 30 days of a cycle beginning June 20 is around 90%, Hong Kong’s Food and Health Bureau said Thursday.
The city last month said vaccinated senior executives from about 500 companies would be able to seek permission to travel in and out of Hong Kong without needing to follow the current quarantine periods, drawing backlash from residents who called the move elitist.
Hong Kong’s attempts to reopen its border and fully reopen its economy have been slowed by widespread vaccine hesitancy, fueled by fear of rare side effects and distrust in the Beijing-backed government.
To counter the skepticism, authorities and the local business community have looked to incentivize inoculations, with the government easing some of its onerous social-distancing restrictions and companies offering prizes to vaccinated people that include everything from shopping vouchers to gold bars.
The city’s vaccination rate has been steadily increasing in recent weeks, with about 15.2% of Hong Kong’s population fully vaccinated, according to Bloomberg’s Vaccine Tracker. The government will also open vaccinations for children ages 12 and older within the month. Still, the rate lags behind competing finance capitals like Singapore and London.
The panel said passengers considered for shorter quarantine would be able to be vaccinated with jabs developed by BioNTech SE and China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd., which are in use in Hong Kong. Inoculations recognized by the World Health Organization or China’s National Medical Products Administration would also be accepted, and it suggested Russia’s Sputnik V also be considered.
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