Big sigh for arrivals as quarantine eased

Finance | Jane Cheung 22 Jun 2021

Fully vaccinated Hong Kong residents returning from countries that do not pose extremely high or very high Covid-19 risks can enjoy a shortened hotel quarantine of seven days from June 30 as long as they test positive for antibodies, says Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor.

The same arrangements will likely be made for nonresidents in a month's time.

Lam also said authorities have begun discussions with Macau on a quota-based scheme for quarantine-free travel between the two as yesterday was Hong Kong's 14th consecutive day without local infections - an indicator that the city's fourth wave is under control.

There were only three imported cases yesterday - two from Britain and one from Indonesia - taking the tally to 11,890, including 210 deaths.

Lam said two Department of Health scientific committees recommended shortening the hotel quarantine for fully vaccinated arrivals to seven days as long as they are proved to have successfully generated antibodies.

The shortened quarantine is only for those who have completed Covid-19 vaccine doses followed by a 14-day period to allow the body to develop sufficient antibodies. Currently, Hong Kong recognizes 11 vaccines. Anhui Zhifei Longcom Biopharmaceutical's jab requires three doses, while CanSinoBIO and Janssen are one-dose vaccines.

The remaining eight brands, including the two available in Hong Kong - Beijing-made Sinovac and German-made BioNTech - require two doses. The full list of recognized vaccines is available at https://www.coronavirus.gov.hk/pdf/list-of-recognised-covid19-vaccines.pdf .

Despite being vaccinated, arrivals must undergo Covid-19 tests and wait for the results at the airport. Lam said in the first phase of the shortened quarantine, only residents will be covered since they can take the antibody test in Hong Kong before their departure, so the results can be used for a shorter hotel quarantine when they return at a future date.

However, authorities will only accept results of antibody tests that are taken within three months.

The second phase will be extended to nonresidents.

"Our preliminary idea is that when arrivals are waiting for test results at the airport, we send nurses from recognized laboratories to draw their blood samples," Lam said.

"But antibody tests must be done at laboratories, so after testing negative for Covid-19, arrivals can go to their quarantine hotels to wait for their antibody results."

Currently, Hong Kong classifies Covid-19 risks of countries as extremely high, very high, high, medium and low.

For extremely high-risk countries like Brazil, India, Nepal and the Philippines, flights are banned. For very high-risk countries like Ireland and Indonesia, arrivals must undergo 21 days of hotel quarantine whether they are vaccinated or not.

The existing requirement is 14 days of hotel quarantine for vaccinated travelers from high- and medium-risk countries. Their isolation period will be halved upon testing positive for antibodies.

For low-risk Australia and New Zealand, vaccinated arrivals are already enjoying a seven-day hotel quarantine, but after the announcement, they can only do so after passing antibody tests.

Lam warned travelers to book hotels for 14 days to play it safe. Authorities are in discussion with hotels to allow flexibility in reducing booking periods.

Lam said negotiations have begun with Macau but there will be a quota and it is only open to vaccinated people who must undergo Covid-19 tests before departure and after arrival at both cities. The scheme comes with a "circuit-breaker" that terminates it if either side records a certain number of new local cases.

Macau's government said officials from both SARs agreed yesterday to begin the scheme when Hong Kong has not seen a local case for 28 straight days, which will be July 6 at the earliest.

Lam said authorities are also monitoring recent outbreaks in Guangdong and once those stabilize, they will work on reopening the border with the mainland.

jane.cheung@singtaonewscorp.com

Editorial: Macau border talks a good first step



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