Hong Kong’s new Chief Executive, John Lee Ka-chiu, addressed concerns about the city’s current border restrictions and social distancing measures during his first press briefing on Tuesday morning before the weekly Executive Council meeting. He maintained that the government needs to strike a balance between reducing anti-pandemic travel regulations and limiting the spread of Covid-19.
Earlier, Lee stated that the government could implement a “5+2” quarantine requirement. Under this arrangement, inbound travellers would spend five days at a designed quarantine hotel and two days at home.
When asked whether the compulsory isolation period for inbound travellers will be reduced, the CE said, “One of the areas that the Secretary for Health [Lo Chung-mau] is looking at is how the duration of quarantine should be handled. I am giving him time to look at the statistics so that he will formulate some options for me to consider.”
“I’m conscious of the need for Hong Kong to remain open and convenient to travellers. But it is also important that we address the risk at the same time so that we maintain a good balance. I have already asked the Secretary for Health to look at the evidence and statistics to see how we can while, on the one hand contain the spread of the pandemic, and at the same time reduce the inconvenience to travellers,” added Lee.
Lee said that there are two other factors that will affect decisions regarding any change in the government’s anti-epidemic policy: hospital services and people who are at high risk of getting infected.
“We must continue to keep the pandemic under control because if the figures go up, then consequentially, there will be a higher rate of people getting into hospital, which will mean that the hospital service will be affected,” said Lee, adding, “Another point for the Secretary of Health to look into is to ensure that people who face high risks of getting infected and getting into potential serious illness [are protected] well.”
The CE added that the government intends to “make good use of PCR tests” so that the authorities can identify people who are infected as early as possible and isolate them to reduce the risk of transmission.
Under the current restrictions, all overseas visitors and returning residents must undergo a minimum compulsory quarantine period of seven days at a designated quarantine hotel. They must also be fully vaccinated, provide proof of a negative PCR test within 48 hours of their departure to Hong Kong, and test negative for the virus upon arrival at the Hong Kong International Airport.
Airlines that bring passengers into Hong Kong are also subject to anti-pandemic restrictions. Incoming flights from certain routes are banned for five days if five or more passengers or 5% or more of the total number of passengers on the same flight (whichever is higher) test positive for the virus upon arrival. The ban is also triggered if three or more passengers test positive for Covid-19 upon arrival and one or more passengers do not have the correct documentation to enter the SAR.
Header image credits: Screen capture of RTHK livestream