The relaxation in Hong Kong’s rules comes after mainland China eased its hardline coronavirus policies.
Hong Kong will drop most of its stringent Covid-19 restrictions this week, including a vaccine pass requirement and outdoor social distancing rules, city executive John Lee said on Wednesday. Along with mainland China, Hong Kong was one of the last jurisdictions in the world still pursuing a ‘zero Covid’ policy.
As of Thursday, Hong Kong residents will no longer have to display proof of vaccination to enter bars, restaurants, and other public venues. Close contacts of Covid-19 patients will no longer have to isolate, and a citywide policy limiting outdoor gatherings to 12 people will be scrapped, Lee told reporters at a press conference.
Incoming travelers will have to submit rapid antigen tests instead of PCR tests, and Lee said that travel between the former British colony and mainland China will resume “before the middle of January.”
Mandatory masking, however, will remain in effect throughout the city.
Lee said that a combination of widespread natural immunity and near-total vaccination of the city’s more than seven million people informed his decision.
“The city has reached a relatively high vaccination rate which builds an anti-epidemic barrier,” he told reporters. “Also we have sufficient and effective medicine, and the community has good experience of three years to protect themselves.”
Some 6.7 million Hong Kong residents – 93% of the city’s population – have received at least two vaccine doses, per official statistics. However, Hong Kong is currently recording an average of nearly 20,000 cases of Covid-19 per day, the highest spike in new cases since the pandemic began, save for two weeks of up to 65,000 cases in March.
Lee’s decision came days after China downgraded its coronavirus response from “’A’ level control measures” to the less strict “’B’ level” response. As of January 8, Covid-19 patients will no longer be required to isolate, new arrivals to China will not be forced to quarantine, and local authorities will no longer be able to lock down entire communities in the event of a localized outbreak.