Hong Kong Removes Key Covid Restrictions on Travelers

The amber health code is being scrapped, giving those who test negative on arrival freedom of movement.

The Hong Kong Island skyline by night. (Photo: Thom Masat/Unsplash)

Hong Kong is finally edging closer toward a full border reopening. At a Tuesday morning press briefing, the city’s Chief Executive John Lee announced the imminent relaxation of major pandemic rules just in time for the Christmas and New Year holidays.

Starting tomorrow (December 14), the amber code for international arrivals will be dropped, signaling an end to the much-criticized “0+3” system that bans visitors and returning residents from dining at restaurants or going to bars and other mask-less indoor settings during the first three days. Scanning the LeaveHomeSafe contact-tracing app before entering attractions and all other premises will no longer be mandatory, though the separate vaccine pass is set to remain in place. This means that patrons at restaurants and certain venues must show proof of vaccination at the door.

The surprise announcement throws a lifeline to Hong Kong’s beleaguered tourism and business sectors, whose members have been campaigning for an end to the amber code in recent months. It also comes as Mainland China slowly pivots away from its harsh zero-Covid policy. Officials there have just lifted restrictions on cross-border cargo movements, with Hong Kong truck drivers once again able to make point-to-point deliveries. Similarly, Cathay Pacific aircrews flying to the Mainland after working overseas routes have had their self-isolation periods shortened from seven days to three days.

Unlike most of the rest of Asia, pre-departure and on-arrival testing are still mandatory in Hong Kong, as is a day 2 PCR test. Incoming travelers must also fill out an online health declaration form and upload a copy of their vaccine certificate ahead of the trip. Passenger arrivals into Hong Kong have steadily risen since the end of hotel quarantine in late September; this past Sunday saw a record 20,865 people enter the city via the airport, marking the first time daily numbers breached 20,000 since the onset of the pandemic.

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