Why Hong Kong has finally scrapped Covid hotel quarantine measures

Move follows ‘intense’ lobbying from domestic and international businesses

Hong Kong chief executive John Lee
Hong Kong chief executive John Lee said quarantining would stop from 26 September
(Image credit: Li Zhihua/China News Service via Getty Images)

Hong Kong is scrapping the strict Covid hotel quarantine policy it has imposed on anyone arriving in the territory for the past two and a half years.

The city’s chief executive, John Lee, said the quarantine requirement would be eliminated from Monday, although travellers would be subject to testing and monitoring for three days after landing. Arrivals will be allowed to go to work or school but will not be permitted to enter bars or restaurants for three days.

Since it came into effect, Hong Kong’s quarantine policy, which required international arrivals to spend up to three weeks in hotels, has “eroded the city’s status as a financial hub, hammered its economy and sparked an exodus of residents”, said the Financial Times (FT).

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Move followed ‘intense lobbying’

The announcement followed “intense lobbying” from both the international and local business communities, noted the paper.

The prolonged quarantine measures had hit Hong Kong’s economy hard and put the Asian financial centre at a disadvantage with its regional rivals. Only this morning, Singapore unseated Hong Kong as Asia’s top financial market in the Global Financial Centres Index.

“Business is suffering tremendously because of the inability to travel,” a senior executive at a Hong Kong-listed developer told the FT. “The overall economic sentiment is very bad and needs a major revival.”

In recent months, business groups, diplomats and many residents had “slammed” the city’s policies, saying they “threaten Hong Kong’s competitiveness and standing as a global financial centre”, added Reuters.

Recent Covid surge has peaked

A “devastating wave” of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 “ripped through the city” earlier this year, said the FT, but the recent surge of cases has since peaked, a local health official told Hong Kong Free Press.

The city reported 5,990 new cases and 17 new deaths on Thursday, down from a peak of around 10,000 infections recorded earlier this month. Hong Kong has recorded a total of 1.7 million cases and 9,900 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

Announcement sparks bookings

The relaxation of the policy will help Hong Kong reclaim its business edge. The news has already “sparked a rush for flight tickets” to the city, with the Cathay Pacific website operating a queuing system to book, reported the BBC.

But Hao Hong, chief economist of Grow Investment Group, told the broadcaster that “rebuilding confidence takes time, especially against the tide of exodus of talents from Hong Kong”.

And while Hong Kong has relaxed its particularly strict hotel quarantine policy, it is not following in the footsteps of many other countries by relaxing Covid measures entirely.

A letter in the South China Morning Post, published this morning, argued that the move is “still not enough” because “until Hong Kong gets in line with the rest of the world and does away with all restrictions on inbound travellers – including scrapping the mask mandate – the city will only continue its slow death spiral”.

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Chas Newkey-Burden has been part of The Week Digital team for more than a decade and a journalist for 25 years, starting out on the irreverent football weekly 90 Minutes, before moving to lifestyle magazines Loaded and Attitude. He was a columnist for The Big Issue and landed a world exclusive with David Beckham that became the weekly magazine’s bestselling issue. He now writes regularly for The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Independent, Metro, FourFourTwo and the i new site. He is also the author of a number of non-fiction books.