It’s the latest step in a bid to spark the resumption of quarantine-free travel with Mainland China.
While much of Asia is slowly opening up to the world, Hong Kong looks set to remain sealed off for the foreseeable future. The territory’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam says its Covid-19 travel restrictions, already among the toughest in the world, will now be tightened even further. At a press conference on Tuesday, she announced that most quarantine exemptions for arrivals from overseas and Mainland China were being scrapped; only cross-border drivers transporting goods deemed essential for daily life in Hong Kong or those traveling for emergencies will be eligible. Current rules allow specific group of people, including business leaders and diplomats, to either bypass quarantine or self-isolate at home.
The vast majority of travelers coming in from abroad must spend 14 to 21 days in hotel quarantine at their own expense. Only fully vaccinated arrivals from New Zealand, the sole country classified as “low-risk” by local health authorities, are eligible for shortened quarantines of seven days. The ongoing restrictions cast doubt over Hong Kong’s future as a global financial hub, especially as major cities such as Singapore, Tokyo, New York, and London benefit from the restoration of travel links. But the territory’s government has chosen to prioritize reopening the border with Mainland China while downplaying the potential impact of keeping Hong Kong isolated from the outside world. At a press briefing earlier this month, Lam said outright, “Of course international travel and international business are important for us, but … the mainland is more important.”
According to a recent report in the South China Morning Post, a Covid-19 adviser to the local government said the border was unlikely to reopen before February, as it would require months of negotiations and Hong Kong would have to develop a health code app similar to the one used across the border. Another factor is whether the local vaccination rate will reach a level high enough to satisfy Beijing. As of October 26, less than 60 percent of Hong Kong’s population has been fully vaccinated, and coverage for vulnerable age groups is dismal: about 31 percent of residents over the age of 70 have received both doses of a vaccine, and just 16 percent of those aged 80 and above are fully vaccinated.
On the whole, the prospect for quarantine-free travel into Hong Kong remains bleak. China is likely to keep the country’s borders closed to the rest of the world beyond the Beijing Winter Olympics next February, with one government official telling the Financial Times that entry restrictions may only be eased after the Communist party congress in November 2022.