Government announces lifting of compulsory quarantine requirement on arrival at Hong Kong
The Government announced on September 23 the lifting of compulsory quarantine requirement for inbound persons from overseas places or Taiwan starting from September 26, after analysing scientific data and striking a balance among factors such as transmission risks. The arrangement for inbound persons from the Mainland or Macao will be rationalised at the same time. The Government's goal is to minimise the inconvenience faced by inbound travellers due to quarantine requirements and allow room for Hong Kong to connect with the world as far as possible, while being able to contain the epidemic development.
Starting September 26, the boarding requirements and quarantine arrangements for inbound persons from overseas places or Taiwan will be adjusted as follows:
- Presentation of a negative nucleic acid testing report prior to boarding will no longer be required. Instead, a declaration of the negative result of a self-arranged rapid antigen test (RAT) conducted within 24 hours prior to the scheduled time of departure should be made via the online Health & Quarantine Information Declaration of the Department of Health.
- Boarding requirement of having completed vaccination for Hong Kong residents will be lifted. Non-Hong Kong residents aged 12 or above will still be required to be fully vaccinated or have obtained a medical exemption certificate before they are allowed to board a flight for Hong Kong.
- "Test-and-go" arrangement will be implemented at the Hong Kong International Airport, i.e. inbound persons will not be required to wait for the test result at the airport after undergoing specimen collection for the nucleic acid test. They can take public transport or self-arranged transport to return to their home or their hotel of choice.
- Quarantine arrangement upon arrival at Hong Kong will be changed to "0+3", i.e. no compulsory quarantine will be required. There will be three days of medical surveillance during which inbound persons are free to go out but are obliged to comply with Amber Code restrictions under the Vaccine Pass, followed by a four-day self-monitoring period, making it a 7-day observation period in total.
- Nucleic acid tests at community testing centres, mobile testing stations or other recognised institutions on Day 2, Day 4 and Day 6 (the day of arrival is Day 0) will be required upon arrival at Hong Kong, supplemented by daily RATs from Day 1 to Day 7.
- For inbound persons who are tested positive by nucleic acid tests or RATs, their Vaccine Pass will be converted to a Red Code. Their isolation arrangements will be aligned with that for local cases.
A Government spokesman said that the COVID-19 epidemic situation rebounded since June due to the Omicron virus variant. The daily caseload spiked from low three-digits to four-digits, while the more transmissible sub-lineage BA.5 has replaced the earlier sub-lineage BA.2 since August, quickly turning the epidemic situations severe, leading to over 10 000 daily confirmed cases in early September. To cope with the epidemic situation, regular services of the public healthcare system was cut down substantially. Nonetheless, with the concerted efforts of the public and the Government in fighting the virus, the number of confirmed, hospitalised, and critical cases and death were much lower compared to that recorded during the period between February and April. At the same time, the vaccination rate for two doses among the overall population in Hong Kong has also significantly increased from less than 70 per cent in the beginning of this year to more than 90 per cent so far. At present, the epidemic situation has peaked and is showing signs of subsiding, with the real-time effective reproductive number for local cases dropping below 1, demonstrating that the enhanced immunity shield at community level is able to ward off the spread of the COVID-19 virus. A series of precise prevention and control measures and measures putting targeted groups as the focus of protection implemented by the Government has also effectively reduced infection, serious illness and fatality of high-risk groups. There was no need for Hong Kong to tighten social distancing measures to a large extent as per previous instances, avoiding any impact on the daily lives of the public and socio-economic activities. In response to the latest data and development trends of the epidemic, the Government considered that Hong Kong is equipped with the conditions to relax inbound control measures and to resume the international connection on the premise of striking a balance among risks and economic impetus.
The spokesman said that after the implementation of "3+4" quarantine arrangements for inbound persons from overseas places or Taiwan since August 12, the daily average number of imported cases in actual recorded a downward trend despite a 20 per cent increase in the number of relevant inbound travellers. The proportion of imported cases has dropped from 4.7 per cent to 3.3 per cent, and the 7-day moving average of imported cases to total caseload has decreased from 4.7 per cent on August 15 to 1.9 per cent on September 15. According to observations in the past few weeks, it has been an effective measure to curb potential transmission by restricting inbound persons from entering high-risk premises that involved mask-off or group activities during the medical surveillance through implementation of the Amber Code arrangement under Vaccine Pass. Overall, under the relevant inbound control measures and the Red and Amber Codes arrangements under the Vaccine Pass, imported cases have not posed any impact on the local epidemic situation nor incurred any additional pressure on the local public healthcare system. The data above indicated that inbound control measures together with Red and Amber Codes arrangements are effective in reducing imported case risks and achieving the goal of the proper management of infection risks.
Details of inbound control measures to be implemented starting from 6am on September 26 (Hong Kong Time) are as follows:
Arriving at Hong Kong from overseas places or Taiwan
(1) Boarding requirements
With the COVID-19 testing services in overseas places being scaled back, inbound persons may have difficulties in obtaining the required testing report prior to boarding for Hong Kong. Therefore, the pre-departure test for inbound persons from overseas places and Taiwan will be changed to an RAT (can be self-administered or by professional swab sampling) conducted within 24 hours prior to the scheduled time of departure. The relevant inbound persons should then declare the test result via the Health & Quarantine Information Declaration.
In addition, as the Government has standardised requirements for issuing Provisional Vaccine Pass (see separate press release), the boarding requirement for Hong Kong residents to be fully vaccinated will then be lifted. However, in order to avoid putting pressure on the local healthcare system once visitors are identified as confirmed cases, non-Hong Kong residents aged 12 or above arriving from overseas places are still required to be fully vaccinated (Note 1) before they are allowed to board a flight for Hong Kong.
Inbound persons will still be required to complete the online Health & Quarantine Information Declaration of the Department of Health (www.chp.gov.hk/hdf/) in advance, including declaration of vaccination records and the results of pre-departure RAT. They are also required to present the green health declaration QR code generated upon completion of declaration (which can be a downloadable version of the QR code, a screen shot or a printout) at check-in for verification by airlines for boarding. The health declaration QR code will still be valid for 96 hours, i.e. inbound persons can submit the declaration form as early as three days before their scheduled arrival time in Hong Kong (for instance, a person arriving at Hong Kong on Monday may submit declaration form starting from Friday). They can then save the time by further updating the declaration after obtaining the negative result of a RAT.
(2) Arrangements upon arrival
Upon arrival at Hong Kong, the relevant persons will be required to register for undergoing a nucleic acid test by scanning the health declaration QR code. The system will issue medical surveillance notices, vaccination records and Provisional Vaccine Pass QR codes electronically. After having their specimen collected for nucleic acid testing, the relevant inbound persons may proceed with the normal arrival process. They can continue with immigration and customs clearance, claim their baggage and leave the airport by self-arranged transport, including taking public transport. In other words, inbound persons are no longer required to undergo an RAT to obtain a negative result before they can be released under the current "test-and-hold" arrangement. The relevant persons are subject to the Amber code restrictions.
(3) Amber Code restrictions during medical surveillance period and subsequent self-monitoring
Relevant inbound persons are not required to undergo compulsory quarantine, but will be under three days of medical surveillance, during which they are subject to Amber Code restrictions, and are not allowed to enter high-risk premises involving mask-off or group activities, as well as other premises requiring key protection (Note 2). They can conduct daily essential activities of lower risks, such as taking public transport, going to work, entering supermarkets and markets, etc.
For relevant inbound persons who are consecutively tested negative, medical surveillance and Amber Code restrictions on them will end at 9 am on Day 3 of arrival at Hong Kong. They will then be subject to a four-day self-monitoring period right afterwards.
(4) Testing arrangements
Inbound persons from overseas places or Taiwan are subject to multiple tests after arrival at Hong Kong:
- Day 0: nucleic acid test at the airport;
- Day 2, Day 4 and Day 6: after obtaining a negative result of RAT on respective days, inbound persons should undergo nucleic acid test at a community testing centre or a mobile specimen collection station, or arrange a self-paid test by professional swab sampling at a local medical testing institution recognised by the Government; and
- During medical surveillance and self-monitoring periods, inbound persons are subject to daily RAT until Day 7 of arrival at Hong Kong.
The handling arrangements for persons testing positive will be aligned with that for local cases, and their Vaccine Pass will be switched to Red Code. Relevant persons should provide information to the Centre for Health Protection through the online platforms (for nucleic acid tests or RATs). For further details, please refer to the webpage on Points to Note for Persons who Tested Positive.
(5) Transitional arrangement
For persons who arrived at Hong Kong before September 26 and are still undergoing quarantine at Designated Quarantine Hotels (DQHs) (i.e. persons who arrived at Hong Kong between September 23 and 25) on that day, they are allowed to leave as arranged by DQHs on September 26. Persons who arrived at Hong Kong within three days (i.e. persons who arrived at Hong Kong between September 24 and 26) will still be required to undergo medical surveillance and be subject to Amber Code restrictions.
Meanwhile, these persons will be required to undergo self-arranged nucleic acid tests and daily RATs in accordance with point (4).
Rationalising requirements for inbound persons from Mainland or Macao
The Government will rationalise concurrently the requirements for inbound persons from the Mainland or Macao who have no travel history of overseas places or Taiwan in the seven days prior to arrival at Hong Kong. As such, the Return2hk Scheme and Come2hk Scheme will be extended to cover all places in the Mainland and Macao with no quota restriction. Advanced application and nucleic acid test before arrival at Hong Kong are also not required. In other words, inbound persons from the Mainland or Macao will not be required to undergo home quarantine after arriving at Hong Kong. However, they will still need to undergo nucleic acid test on Day 2 and be subject to self-monitoring in the three days after arrival at Hong Kong. For persons who arrived at Hong Kong earlier and are undergoing home quarantine, they will no longer be required to undergo home quarantine from September 26 onwards and can then remove their electronic wristbands.
Furthermore, persons travelling from Hong Kong to the Mainland or Macao are still subject to the special testing arrangement to undergo an additional free rapid nucleic acid test prior to their departure via land boundary control points or the airport. Only those who received a negative result can continue with their journeys. To prevent the exportation of cases and to support the nation's anti-epidemic efforts, persons subject to Amber Code restrictions will not be allowed to undergo the relevant special nucleic acid test at land boundary control points or the airport, meaning that inbound person from overseas places or Taiwan are not allowed to transit to the Mainland or Macao within the three days upon arrival at Hong Kong.
The spokesman said, "With the efforts spent over the past months and thanks to the co-operation by members of the public, we are able to contain the epidemic effectively and at the same time maintain the operation of the public healthcare system. We did not need to resort to tightening social distancing measures and were able to create room for adjustment to inbound control measures. The Government will continue to tackle the epidemic development under the principles of science-based and targeted anti-epidemic measures, as well as the proper management of risks and citizen-focused facilitation. The Government will also adjust anti-epidemic measures as appropriate based on analyses of scientific data in order to avoid backtracking. It is our aim to facilitate activities and people flow essential to socio-economic recovery, so as to safeguard the wellbeing of citizens while reducing the disruption to normal social activities, with a view to achieving the greatest effect with the lowest cost."
The Government will gazette the relevant updated specifications under the Compulsory Quarantine of Certain Persons Arriving at Hong Kong Regulation (Cap. 599C), the Compulsory Quarantine of Persons Arriving at Hong Kong from Foreign Places Regulation (Cap. 599E), the Prevention and Control of Disease (Regulation of Cross-boundary Conveyances and Travellers) Regulation (Cap. 599H), and the Prevention and Control of Disease (Compulsory Testing for Certain Persons) Regulation (Cap. 599J) to effect the above measures.
For the purpose of inbound boarding requirements, fully vaccinated generally involves receiving two doses of the Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine (CoronaVac vaccine) or the Fosun Pharma/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine (Comirnaty vaccine) at least 14 days before coming to Hong Kong. Persons previously infected with COVID-19 who have received one dose of COVID-19 vaccine can be considered fully vaccinated. As for persons aged between 12 and 17 on the scheduled day of departure for Hong Kong, they may be deemed to have completed the COVID-19 vaccination course on receiving one dose of the Comirnaty vaccine.
For individuals who received COVID-19 vaccines in places outside of Hong Kong and have received the required dose(s) as stipulated in the List of COVID-19 Vaccines Recognised for Specified Purposes (listed vaccines) at least 14 days prior to arrival at Hong Kong; or for those who received a combination of doses of listed vaccines, receiving a combined number of doses of the listed vaccines equivalent to the recommended number of dose(s) of one of the listed vaccines received, whichever higher the number is applicable (except in the case that the recommended dosage of one of the listed vaccines received is "1"), they will also be regarded to have completed the vaccination course of the relevant COVID-19 vaccine.
For the purpose of boarding requirements, relevant persons who are fully vaccinated, as well as children under 12-year-old accompanied by them, can board for Hong Kong. In addition, persons who (i) are unfit for vaccination due to health reasons with relevant proof from a medical practitioner; or (ii) have received one dose of recognised COVID-19 vaccine, if they were certified by a medical practitioner that they were unfit to receive the second dose of COVID-19 vaccine because of health reasons after receiving the first dose of vaccine are also allowed to board flights for Hong Kong. The relevant medical certificate must indicate the relevant health reasons in English or Chinese.
Premises regulated under Cap. 599F which are subject to "active checking" of the Vaccine Pass:
- Premises required to use the QR Code Verification Scanner and is regulated under Cap. 599F, i.e. catering business premises (including bars or pubs), amusement game centres, bathhouses, fitness centres, places of amusement, indoor places of public entertainment, party rooms, beauty parlours and massage establishments, club houses, clubs or nightclubs, karaoke establishments, mahjong-tin kau premises, indoor sports premises, swimming pools, cruise ships, indoor event premises, barber shops or hair salons and religious premises.
- Premises required to inspect the Vaccine Pass visually as far as feasible, i.e. outdoor places of public entertainment, outdoor sports premises and outdoor event premises.
Other premises: residential care homes for the elderly, residential care homes for persons with disabilities, schools and designated healthcare premises.
A person holding an Amber Code who works or study at those premises, or receives services at the designated healthcare premises, are not subject to the restriction under the Vaccine Pass. However, their entry will subject to any additional rules or requirements imposed by the employers or persons-in-charge of individual premises in accordance with their own needs.